Board rejects request for honorary diploma at graduation

Residents plea for reconsideration

Tears fell and tempers flared as the Board of Ed stood behind its decision once again to not grant the Conklin family’s request for an honorary diploma to be awarded to them for their late son Eddy at the Shelton High annual commencement ceremony on June 10.

Nearly 75 people showed up in support of the family’s push for the Board to reconsider its offer to award the family an honorary diploma at the Senior Awards Ceremony along with a moment of silence at graduation for both Conklin and the late Kristjan Ndoj.

When asked if the board’s decision is final Clouet said he could not disclose that information at this time because a heated meeting was not an appropriate place to finalize a policy.

“I can’t speak at this moment on what the board’s final decision will be. The board meets tomorrow (Thursday, May 26) and can call a special meeting at any time and the decision could be made that is different than what we have now. We’re not turning our back on the family.”

Dr. Clouet continued.

“When we do establish a policy we will consider all of the possibilities, not in the heat of an angry group. That anger may be reflective of real feelings, I don’t doubt that, but in order to create policy that’s not just for this year, but for next year and the next decades, we need to do that in a deliberative fashion.”

There wasn’t a person who publicly voiced their support of the board’s current decision.

The topic wasn’t on the agenda, but when board member Kathy Yolish made a motion to add it in, it was denied by a vote of 6 to 3.

Board members Dr. Darlissa Ritter, David Gioiello, and Yolish opposed the other 6 members of the Board of Education’s decision to deny the request.

“I just want closure for everyone,” said Yolish. “The family, friends, and the board too”

Eddy Conklin was killed in a car crash earlier this year in February on Bridgeport Ave. in Shelton and was just one English credit and a capstone course credit short of earning a high school diploma.

His family said they will continue to push for their son’s honorary diploma to be awarded at graduation to commemorate his years of hard work and to give family and friends the closure they need.

"This is the last gift I can give to my son. Please allow me the gift to see him move along with his classmates, his friends who loved him as do I," said Barbara Conklin as she opened the public portion of the board meeting Wednesday night.

Gioiello was upset there wasn’t a vote among the board before the decision was made. Several residents suggested the senior class cast votes for how they want the graduation ceremony to run in regards to paying respects to their deceased classmates.

Superintendent of Shelton Schools Dr. Chris Clouet said boards of education typically do not vote on diplomas.

“There was a discussion and that’s appropriate between myself and the board members to consider what was the best course of action, but no vote was taken. I bring education expertise to the table and they bring community expertise to the table and that’s exactly what the mix is supposed to be. This is a very difficult situation especially for the families who have lost children.”

Dr. Clouet adds.

“A board is made up of nine individuals with their own experiences and they have the right to express their own experiences in the form of a vote or opinion.”

Shelton resident Judson Crawford said the online petition that collected more than 7,400 supporters of the Conklin family’s request doesn’t represent the full amount of people behind the cause because it excludes a large portion of seniors in the city that have limited internet access.

Stephanie Kampler of Shelton said it’s not too late for the board to change their minds and sees this as an opportunity to teach the graduating class empathy.

“You’ve got a bad reputation now. If you make the right decision I guarantee you at least I and many of us will say ‘you know what they started off wrong but they heard us, we matter’,” said Kampler.

Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden said the chances of the board changing their decision aren’t very likely.

“We agreed putting them at the Senior Awards night is a dignified opportunity to honor fallen students, this will be our policy in the future,” said Holden. “

Mayor Mark Lauretti was out of town but had Board of Aldermen President John Anglace speak on his behalf in support of the Conklins.

“This is a solemn, solemn moment because members of our school community were lost prematurely. Now is the time for our families and institutions they were a part of to come together to lessen the grief and the family’s burden,” Anglace recited for Mayor Lauretti. “It’s a time to marshal our strength behind those that grieve and collectively assist in their needs. It’s a time for common sense to prevail, what they ask of our school institution is reasonable and fair.”

Anglace added that he agrees with the Mayor and asks that the board override its decision so the community can move forward.

The board didn’t seem to budge on its position throughout the public portion.

Multiple residents said tragic deaths among students will happen again and more compassion should be shown towards the parents.

“The idea that because we’re offering a diploma at an awards ceremony is somehow disrespectful, i don’t agree with that,” said Dr. Clouet.