A William Penn Senior High School disciplinary policy is being called unfair and in need of reform by several students who say they will not be allowed to walk at their graduation ceremony because of it.

The three students, all friends and transfer students from Helen Thackston Charter School, made an emotional plea to the school board at its meeting Wednesday to find a way to let them participate in the school’s graduation ceremony in June.

Ajiana Coleman, Katena Wilson and Katrina Thompson, all of York City, were involved in a cafeteria fight in February that resulted in 10-day suspensions.

“We found out that, because of an incident at our high school, we won’t be able to walk across the stage for our last year (of high school),” Thompson said.

The incident: Coleman, 17, alleged there were two students in their classroom “that weren’t supposed to be in that class,” and an unnamed male teacher did not act to remove the students from the classroom. Coleman said when the class ended, the other students, who are underclassmen, were in the hallway and used incendiary language toward them.

“We tried to prevent the fight,” Coleman said.

Wilson, 18, said the three fought back in self-defense, adding that York High staff “don't know us to be disrespectful or to be violent.”

She said they “worked very hard to make it to 12th grade” and find it unfair that the underclassmen involved in the fight will “get to walk the stage, clean slate, as if nothing happened,” during their senior years.

“We get punished twice, and I don’t really think that’s fair,” she added.

“Yes, I did act on swinging back,” Thompson, 17, said, “but I took responsibility for what I did.” She said the three seniors are now back in school and are “making an effort” by attending mandated meetings, which they say the other students have not attended.

Board reaction: After the group ended their comments before the board, a brief silence took over the room. Board member Diane Brown was the first to speak.

“I'm still stuck on the first thing that they said. There were two students that didn't belong in that classroom?” she asked.

Board member Michael Breeland asked William Penn Principal Brandon Carter what school administrators thought about the graduation policy, known as Bearcat Bold.

“The administration has always held true to Bearcat Bold,” Carter said, adding there have been suggestions from parents and others to make the policy more “progressive” for students.

“The only leverage you have with it is for seniors,” he said. The policy has certain criteria for seniors to graduate, including regular attendance, an acceptable grade-point average and good behavior.

"I just want to make it clear that the issue of discipline should not be discussed at an open meeting," said school district solicitor Jeffrey Gettle.

He said the issue did not prevent the students from graduating but instead was "just the issue of the privilege of walking."

Gettle suggested the students bring their issue before the school administration instead.

Carter stated the school is considering changes to the policy for the next school year.

Before adjourning the meeting, board President Margie Orr said the board should review the policy.

“It's going to be in our best interest for this board to really look at that Bearcat Bold rule," she said. "We’re going to have to revisit that.”

"I'm at a complete loss for words,” Orr added.

After the board meeting, the three students said they still don't know if they will be able to walk.

Coleman said she was happy the group "didn't just sit quiet and let this go by" without a challenge. "We're trying to give ourselves a voice," she said.

The students said they were each the oldest children in their families and felt their punishment would have a lasting effect on their loved ones.

"Us (not) walking on stage is not just punishing us; it's punishing our moms, our dads, our family," Thompson said.

The students said they are hopeful the school board will move toward a policy that could help them walk at graduation, but Orr appeared to change course Thursday.

In a telephone interview, Orr said, "the school board won't be bringing it up again," repeating some of Gettle's comments, insisting it was not a school board matter to begin with and was an issue to dealt with by school administrators.

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