NEW ORLEANS — Eight former Kennedy High students who were denied diplomas because of administrative errors and negligence by school officials received some long-overdue relief this week.
State Schools Superintendent John White granted special waivers to students who were within 1 credit of graduating because of “administrative error on the part of John F. Kennedy High School.”
White detailed the eight student waivers he granted in a letter Thursday to Kevin George, the new CEO of Kennedy’s charter operator, New Beginnings Schools Foundation. The granting of the waivers was first reported Friday by the investigative news website The Lens.
At least four of the students, who were not identified by name in White’s letter, were short of credits because they were assigned the wrong “credit recovery” classes this summer as a part of the school’s attempt to fix previous errors.
New Beginnings CEO Raphael Gang confirmed to WWL-TV that several of the 53 seniors who walked in May graduation ceremonies and then learned they had to go back to summer school were later given the wrong classes to retake at summer school.
For example, World Geography was not available anymore, so those students who were missing World Geography credits needed to take the Advance Placement-level Human Geography as a replacement, but instead were given the coursework for regular Human Geography – not the Advance Placement-level course.
The waiver letter from the state grants two students waivers for that specific issue. Two others passed “credit recovery” classes in Algebra and Health when the school should have given them different versions of those courses, the letter says.
Those four were among those who learned just this month, from testimony by a state official in a civil court hearing, that they had completed the wrong make-up classes, through no fault of their own.
Gang said the officials who administered the wrong classes this summer no longer work for New Beginnings.
The waiver letter from the state lists two students who were not assigned proper courses during the regular school year – one who failed a class and was never assigned to retake it, and another who was never given a single Health course “at any point during the student’s high school career,” even though it’s needed to graduate.
Two other students got waivers because Kennedy enrolled them in GradPoint, an online learning program that was used regularly at Kennedy, even though it was “unapproved and unauthorized.” The school has since switched online learning providers, to Edgenuity, but not until after it directed dozens of students to take GradPoint classes, even setting up a “GradPoint room” at the school.
Tayler McClendon is one of the students who took GradPoint to rectify errors made by Kennedy officials, walked in graduation ceremonies thinking she had graduated and later learned none of her GradPoint work had counted. She and her mother are now suing New Beginnings, the state and the Orleans Parish School Board on behalf of the whole class.
McClendon told WWL-TV it’s embarrassing to now have to go back to Kennedy for a whole year to fix something that adults caused.
The eight students who received waivers this week are far from the only ones affected by Kennedy’s administrative errors. There are still more than two dozen students from the Kennedy Class of 2019 trying to complete their graduation requirements, but only those within a single credit of graduating could get the waivers.
What’s more, if a student accepts a waiver from White, they will no longer be qualified for the TOPS university scholarships. Gang said Kennedy leaders made sure to get consent from all eight students and their parents that they would be ineligible for TOPS before seeking waivers for them.