Home Schooling

Mom wants her home-schooled son to walk the graduation stage. The school district says not so fast.

EAST PROVIDENCE — After a year of learning remotely, returning to school part-time and home schooling, all Lanear Santiago Nocella wants to do is walk the stage with his buddies.

But the pandemic has thrown Nocella, known as Lani, a curveball. Like many districts, East Providence doesn’t issue diplomas to home-schooled students, because they aren’t enrolled in the public school district.

“Home school is another form of private education,” said Jennifer Curry, state coordinator of the Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers. “He isn’t enrolled in the high school.”

Some districts allow home-schoolers to join athletic teams and clubs; others prohibit it. A spokesman for the state association of school principals said he is not aware of any district that allows home-schooled students to get a district diploma.

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Like so many parents whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic, Amy Docen, Lani’s mom, is frustrated.

She pulled 18-year-old Lani, who has attention deficit disorder, out of the high school last fall because the hybrid schedule — a couple of days in, a couple of days off — just wasn’t working for him. Next, she tried distance learning, but spending that much time in front of a screen didn’t hold his attention.

“His grades were beyond failing,” Docen said this week. “Lanear felt anxious, completely overwhelmed, like he’s already fallen behind, on top of difficulty focusing, time management, and staying on task, and on top of all the other young-adult and pandemic stressors.”

After a heart-to-heart with Lani, Docen and her son agreed that home schooling was the best option. She began home-schooling him in late October.

Since then, Lani has been “doing phenomenal” with his classes.

“I choose things he is interested in,” Docen said. “We do a lot of hands-on things. It’s all one-on-one with me, and he has a lot of respect for me.”

Docen never imagined Lani would have a problem walking the stage but admits she didn’t do her homework. When she contacted school officials in early March, she was told no.

“We don’t allow home-schoolers to walk the stage,” said Supt. Kathryn Crowley. “They have never, to my knowledge, walked the stage. They chose to withdraw their student and school him at home, which we support.”

What about the pandemic? Docen asked. Didn’t that upend everyone’s tidy definition of school and throw students’ lives off balance?

Docen didn’t take no for an answer.

She reached out to a couple of school committee members, and they agreed it shouldn’t be an issue. Later, school committee member Max Brandle told Docen that the decision was up to the district, not the committee.

“Certainly, I think it’s unfair,” Brandle said. “While this decision is up to the administration at the high school, I think every student that participated in our high school at one point or another should be allowed to walk the stage, and, hopefully, they realize that before this child loses an opportunity.”

Docen said the school principal, Toby Gibbons, told her the same thing — that the ceremony is only for East Providence High School seniors. Even though Lani is allowed to play high school football, graduation is not considered an “extracurricular” activity.

Docen said she could reenroll Lani, but there was a catch: his failing grades during the first quarter would make him ineligible to play football. And he would still have to complete the rest of his high school graduation requirements, including completing a senior project and community service hours.

The district would also have to approve all of Lani’s home-school courses to determine if they met the high school’s graduation requirements.

Gibbons tried to be helpful. He suggested that Docen plan a private graduation ceremony for family and friends and offered to attend the ceremony in his college robe “to make it feel more real.”

But walking the stage was a “make or break” moment for Lani. It’s what he’s always imagined. It would be the finishing touch to his high school career.

“It bugs me,” Docen said. “Last year, it was all about the seniors. The kids knew they would be able to graduate. There was a lot of compassion and understanding. This year, I feel like the compassion is gone for this group.”

Lani said he wouldn’t have left his high school if he knew it meant not graduating with his friends.

“Personally, I feel kind of low,” he said. “I feel left out. I’ve been with these kids since sixth grade. I figured the new principal would relate to how I’m feeling. With him disregarding how I feel, it’s disappointing.”

He appreciated that Gibbons offered to come to a family graduation, but, he said, “It’s not the same as being out there with my friends.”

Docen said her son has already lost so much of his high school experience since football was postponed until the spring.

“He went to school with these kids,” she said. “All I’m asking is that he walk the stage.”

Linda Borg covers education for The Journal.

Some districts allow home-schoolers to join athletic teams and clubs; others prohibit it. A spokesman for the state association of school principals said he is not aware of any district that allows home-schooled students to get a district diploma.

Source: https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/education/2021/04/02/east-providence-school-district-wont-let-home-schooler-walk-graduation-stage/7064830002/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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