Withholding student's diploma illegal?

CINCINNATI - It appears Mt. Healthy City Schools may have stepped over several legal boundaries by withholding diplomas from four graduating seniors, including 19-year-old Anthony Cornist, because of excessive cheering by their families.

The district says he or his family must complete 20 hours of community service to get his diploma, although superintendent Lori Handler acknowledged the students have passed all the state's requirements for graduation.

Anthony's mother, Traci Cornist, says her son cannot be held responsible for her actions, and he must be given his sheepskin with no conditions. Attorney Mark Krumbein agrees. He says Mt. Healthy Schools do not have the authority for their actions. He says schools are limited to the kind of punishments they can mete out: detention, suspension or expulsion.

Community service, he says, is not an option. The superintendent says the students' behavior during the ceremony was "angelic," yet they are being punished for actions they did not commit.

"You can't punish someone for what their family or friends in the auditorium did," Krumbein said.

"Further," Krumbein said, "any misconduct in high school must be defined in the Student Conduct Code, in writing at the beginning of the school session, not just prior to a specific event. If it's not in the Code of Conduct, in writing, it can't be a violation of a rule."

"Once he's graduated, the school has not authority over him," Krumbein said.

The situation has drawn international media attention. A worker as far away as the People's Republic of China has offered an hour of community service picking up garbage in Cornist's name.

Reaction to the school's strategy for commencement civility has been evenly divided. The superintendent refused to respond to Krumbein's opinions on camera saying she feared she would be taken out of context. Handler says she will respond in writing after consulting with the attorney for the district.

In the meantime, Cornist's mother has contacted an attorney and is considering suing the district to get her son's diploma. She hopes the school will "do the right thing" and avoid a legal showdown by handing over the document.

Krumbein says Mt. Healthy should consider damage control.

"I think the best course of action for the school be just to give him his diploma like he deserves," he said.

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