Board stands behind Conklin decision

Family denied request for diploma to be awarded at graduation

The Board of Education is sticking behind its decision to not to present the late Eddy Conklin’s family with a posthumous honorary diploma at Shelton High School’s annual graduation ceremony on June 10.

Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden said after searching through an extensive amount of Shelton High School’s records, some of which are actual paper copies, it was discovered that since 1980 only two of the 17 students who died before their graduation received posthumous diplomas at commencement. An additional student’s family received posthumous diploma, but it was awarded at their home.

He also explained that over the years the requirements for graduation have changed, but the school board’s priority is establishing a precedent for handling students who were in good academic standing but died before graduation.

Holden published a statement on Facebook discussing the policy board members agreed on regarding similar situations should they occur in the future.

“On May 10 the Board agreed to start a new tradition — awarding an honorary diploma to the families of students who were in good standing, but died before meeting graduation requirements. Honorary diplomas have existed in other places, but all indications are this will be a first in Shelton. Our Superintendent has seen similar tragedies in other districts. His recommendation, after discussion with the Board, was to present honorary diplomas at the Senior Awards night. This is not just for the two instances this year, but will become our practice and be documented in our policy for the future.,” Holden’s statement reads.

Holden blames the lack of a reliable record filing system for the late finding of students who died and received diplomas in the past.

“As we’ve done more digging, and something I am a little embarrassed about, is after I posted, ‘We’ve looked and looked and this is all we could find,’ somebody fished up a bunch of stuff. We apparently weren’t so good at filing records back then. I’ve got stuff going back to 1980 now. I still don’t know that I have everything,” said Holden. “To give you an idea of how ‘screwball’ some of these records are, I know that somebody named Frank died. I don’t know what year, I don’t know what grade he was in and I don’t know what last name he had, but he was hit by a car and our records show we did nothing to memorialize him. ”

Holden said he wants to clarify the board’s decision is not personal or anything against the Conklin family.

He also said he doesn’t foresee the board’s decision being overturned despite an online petition that has collected over 7,400 supporters, as of Tuesday morning.

“The Superintendent is the CEO of our organization, and the Board does not need to ratify his decision. If enough members wanted to, they could overrule his decision, but that would be stabbing him in the back because he considered our input before making his recommendation. We gave him no reason to believe we wouldn't support him,” Holden wrote in a post on Facebook.

Holden added that he wants the public to understand that the board’s decision has nothing to do with the Conklin family.

“It really boiled down to what do we do to recognize a student who was in good standing but passed away before completing all the requirements for graduation,” said Holden. “I just don’t see it being reversed and the reason is because we put thought into what is the appropriate way to honor a student in good standing who didn’t have the credits or requirements for graduation. Then we looked at the best place to do it. Frankly, we think the Awards Ceremony is the best place.”

Holden said the Awards Ceremony will feature an entire presentation dedicated to Eddy Conklin rather than just having his name called at graduation. He also said the school’s 1,000 seat auditorium would permit anyone interested in seeing Conklin’s presentation admission.

“There’s usually more than 200 seats available. So if a whole family wanted to show up and family friends, we don’t have a problem with that,” said Holden. “

In a statement in the private group on Facebook called “Shelton Moms”, Barbara Conklin, Eddy’s mother, posted a response to the board’s decision in which she said the board hadn’t been hearing the voices of the community.

“We are asking that Eddy be honored at graduation with his honorary diploma, the ceremony where diplomas are awarded. What part of this is an extraordinary request?,” said Conklin in her post.

Holden said when he posted on the Shelton Moms Facebook page, residents and supporters of Conklin “attacked” him and although he’s able to handle the backlash, other supporters of the Board’s decision would be less willing to come forward.

He said residents have come forward saying they didn’t want the graduation ceremony to turn into a memorial service and therefore the board decided to also award Kristjan Ndoj, a student who died in 2014 before his 2016 graduation, at the Senior Awards night.

“It shouldn't be a surprise students would rather not have the deaths of two fellow classmates put a damper on their day of celebration. Commencement is a time to look ahead to the future. Our graduation belongs to the students who successfully completed the requirements to graduate from Shelton High School. Sadly Eddy and Kristjan lost their lives and will never complete their studies,” Holden wrote on Facebook.

One Shelton High graduate from the class of 2009 commented on Holden’s Facebook post saying that a staff member had passed away and was honored during their graduation ceremony so there should be no issue for the Conklin family.

Holden said the graduation ceremony in question was before his time on the board and his only focus is establishing a consistent guideline for the future.

“I’ve heard about that. It does predate my involvement and I don’t know if the staff member had died or was dying and actually people have complained that the ceremony was turned into a memorial service. They didn’t like that but they want it for Ed. I don’t really have a comment on that,” said Holden.

The Board of Ed will meet Wednesday night and will discuss the new policy for handling students who were in good academic standing but died before graduation.