By Mike Carter-Conneen/ABC7
OXON HILL, Md. (ABC7) — Just last week, two Potomac High School seniors were told they cannot graduate or participate in their school’s graduation ceremony Wednesday morning. The reason given was an enrollment error by their school counselor.
On the eve of graduation, what should be a happy moment for 18-year-old Delvin Tate, Jr. is a major disappointment. The 3.2 GPA student is planning to attend Coppin State University in the fall, but his college plans have become a secondary concern now that his high school diploma is just out of reach.
Tate has overcome a lot of challenges over the years, with multiple custody changes involving his parents. His older brother Rashad Price has since become his legal guardian.
“[The school counselor] told me basically he couldn’t graduate because of a mistake she made by not putting him in a specific class,” Price said. “That was the first time I heard about it which was a week before he was supposed to graduate.”
“Basically, [the counselor and assistant principal] were just like, ‘There’s nothing we can do. The decision is out of our hands,’” he added.
Isaiah Strattonbey’s father said he too only learned about this a week ago, last Wednesday. His 19-year-old son has also overcome challenges to complete high school, managing a learning disability.
“It’s a hurtful situation to look at your child crying on the couch, balled up, because of something that’s beyond your control or his,” said his father Shercohn Evans.
Both students have the same counselor at Potomac High School and both were told they have the same problem — they were mistakenly not enrolled in a class called “Foundations of Technology.”
“It was the second day into the fourth quarter and my counselor pulled me out of my fourth period class and said that I’m being transferred into a class the last three weeks of school,” said Tate.
Tate said his first conversation about this enrollment error with the counselor happened about a month before graduation. Tate was moved from a sculpture class to the technology course.
“And she switched all my grades from the class I was previously in to that class,” he said.
Strattonbey said he was told about the problem on May 5. He was also moved from a business class to the technology class.
But Tate’s brother and Strattonbey’s father said they were never contacted by the school about the problem — or the sudden scramble to resolve the problem — until this past week. The students said they were told all would be okay and that they just needed to complete a series of assignments for the technology class.
“I didn’t even know the curriculum. I didn’t know anything about it,” said Strattonbey.
In the end, their attempt to meet graduation requirements, promptly submitting assigned course work, was determined to be inadequate.
In a statement, Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesperson John White said, “I am sorry to confirm that Delvin Tate and Isaiah Strattonbey are not able to participate in the graduation ceremony for Potomac High School. Both students have not met all graduation requirements. A counselor’s mistake for each student was found during a peer review process completed by the school’s counseling team.”
The statement continued, “The school will cover the cost of enrolling the students in summer school to complete their graduation requirements. The priority is supporting both students, so they successfully complete the work needed to receive their high school diplomas.”
Despite acknowledging an error by their counselor, the school district insists the two students cannot participate at graduation.
“Before students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, the school system and Board of Education certify that we are following local policy and state requirements for graduation. If requirements have not been met, the Board of Education and school system cannot certify students as graduates,” White said.
White said he cannot cite which specific graduation requirements were not met.
“Student records are not public information,” he said. “The students each need to complete a class to meet their requirements.”
White said these are the only two students in this situation at Potomac High School. He said one Oxon Hill High School student is also unable to walk at that school’s graduation ceremony this week due to unmet requirements.
White declined to discuss any possible disciplinary action or training for school staff involved.
“I cannot tell you at this time if discipline is appropriate or if the counselors should receive additional training instead,” he said. “That will be assessed and addressed.”
In a final effort to get permission to attend his school’s graduation, Tate and his brother have been reaching out to school board members and the media. Tate also sent a letter Monday to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.
“The only gift I had to offer my brother who sacrificed so much to take me in, was that moment when I walked across stage and received my high school diploma with my peers, and in front of my family,” he wrote. “I really want you Mr. Baker to make the right decision and let me graduate with my peers, because I shouldn’t be held responsible for something a professional counselor did or didn’t do. Please do not allow me to be punished for a mistake made by the school.”
In response, Baker’s spokesperson Scott Peterson said, “This is a very unfortunate circumstance for these students and their families. PGCPS should work with these students and their parents to make sure they meet all the needed requirements to graduate.”
“As far as policies and protocol of commencement ceremonies, that is presided over by PGCPS and the Board of Education,” Peterson added.
Both Tate and Strattonbey said they are willing to take the summer course to get their diplomas; they just want to get the chance to participate in graduation with all of their peers in Potomac’s Class of 2018.
“My child has one opportunity to walk across the high school stage with his friends,” Evans said.
Strattonbey’s extended family, traveling from California and Mississippi for the graduation ceremony, were told over the weekend not to come.
“[Even with a diploma this summer] it’s still not going to take away the pain and hurt I’m feeling right now,” Strattonbey said.