2010-09-02 / Schools

District apologizes for graduation mistake

By Stephanie Bertholdo

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER—Marc Bruckel proudly displays his well-earned high school diploma. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER—Marc Bruckel proudly displays his well-earned high school diploma. A mistake made by an Oak Park High School counselor deprived a student from participating in the June graduation ceremony, but the Oak Park Unified School District Board of Education issued a formal apology to Marc Bruckel and presented the student with his diploma at an Aug. 17 meeting.

Counselor Tess Wilkoff, who is now retired, had told the Bruckel family in June that their son Marc did not complete enough credits to participate in the graduation ceremony. School policy allows students who are short one class to participate in the ceremony as long as they make up the requirement during the summer, but Wilkoff wrongly believed that Marc was missing credits in both math and science.

“I was more upset with myself because I did not do well in the classes,” Marc said of how he felt when he found out he wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony. He added that he had “come to terms” with his counselor’s decision, attended summer school classes and forged ahead with plans to attend culinary school.

Board member Marie Panec unraveled the mystery of the missing credits and pushed the district to make amends. She said a failed a science class in Marc’s senior year shouldn’t have mattered since students are not required to take four years of science. Though Marc had had some issues with a three-semester algebra class, it turned out he’d met the math requirement as well.

Betsy Bruckel, Marc’s mother, said Wilkoff made a clerical mistake.

“I believe it was an honest mistake,” Bruckel said, adding that her son actually had a few more credits than necessary to graduate.

“We were very disappointed, for sure,” she said. “I struggled to stay in the area to put him through school. I knew he had (put in) a lot of effort at school. It was a mistake— I always try to look at everything in a positive way.”

Although Marc didn’t attend the graduation ceremony, he was allowed to participate in the school’s Grad Night.

Marc’s father, Ron Bruckel, said he was devastated when he found out his son wasn’t going to graduate with his classmates.

“We were pushing Marc all along. Marc kept going to his counselor. She kept telling him if you fail this class you’re not walking (in the ceremony). We found out the mistake two weeks after graduation.”

Marc’s parents were pleased that school officials admitted they had made a mistake, apologized and set aside time at the board meeting to honor their son and present him with his diploma.

At the meeting, Superintendent Tony Knight told Marc that because of him, the school will require more than one person to review transcripts if there is any doubt about a student meeting their graduation requirements.

Ron Bruckel said that if his son had to be a “guinea pig or scapegoat” in order for the school to make those changes, then that could be considered a silver lining.

New principal Kevin Buchanan said he, too, would look at school practices more closely.

“We’ll take this as a learning experience,” Buchanan said.

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