No diplomas for now; California Exit Exam appeal must wait

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Seniors who haven't been credited with passing the California High School Exit Exam won't be getting diplomas when graduation ceremonies are held next month because the First District Appellate Court won't hear the court case about the test until July 25.

The attorney for the students suing to block use of the test says he still expects to prevail.

"This case is far from over," said Arturo Gonzalez, the lead attorney in Valenzuela vs. O'Connell, in which Liliana Valenzuela, a Richmond High School student, and others sued to block the state's use of the test as a graduation requirement, "We think there is a strong chance that students in the Class of 2006 will receive their diplomas, even if it is after commencement ceremonies. It is important that students not get discouraged. They have to stay in school and pass their classes."

On May 12, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman agreed with Gonzalez' argument that the state's use of the test as a graduation requirement was unconstitutional because poor and minority students don't have access to equal educational resources, and therefore don't have equal protection under the law. He issued an injunction against the use of the test.

That injunction seemed to pave the way for those of the 47,000 seniors statewide who haven't yet passed the test, but have completed all other requirements, to receive diplomas with their classmates at upcoming graduation events.

But State Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell quickly filed an appeal of Freedman's ruling and asked the State Supreme Court to issue a stay of Freedman's injunction. Earlier this week, the Court granted O'Connell's request for a stay, allowing schools to deny diplomas to students who haven't passed the test. The Court also ordered the Appellate court to hear O'Connell's appeal of Freedman's ruling against the test.

On Thursday, Gonzalez petitioned the Appellate Court to expedite their hearing of the case to as soon as next week, but today the court denied Gonzalez' request and scheduled the case for a hearing on July 25.

In an email to the James Logan Courier, Gonzalez said he thinks his case is strong enough to withstand the appeal. "We intend to vigorously defend Judge Freedman's ruling," he said, "The record strongly supports his decision."

"If the court of appeals upholds Judge Freedman's ruling, students in the Class of 2006 may still receive their high school diplomas," he said.

About 70 seniors at James Logan High School in Union City, Ca., mostly minorities and those who are learning English, still need to pass the test.

O'Connell, an avid defender of the test, which is required by a law he wrote and championed when he was in the state legislature, said this week that he would make sure school districts knew that they had to require the test be passed in order to hand out diplomas to students.

"I will communicate with districts today to ensure they are aware that the exit exam is a graduation requirement" he said, "Students who have worked hard to pass this exam will be given a diploma that signifies their mastery of essential skills in reading and math."

Sources

The author releases this story to Wikinews under the Creative Commons 2.5 license.

Patrick Hannigan. "No Diplomas for Now; Exit Exam Appeal Must Wait" — The James Logan Courier, May 26, 2006

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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.