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Lutcher grad ranking disputed

By Kimberly Hopson

LUTCHER – A recent dispute within the St. James Parish School District brings to question whether nepotism was involved in the 2013 St. James High School graduation rankings.
Lauren Luce, 16, the daughter of Dr. Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce, graduated summa cum laude from Lutcher High School in May. Rhonda Zeringue, alleges that her daughter, Kassidy Zeringue, 18, should have held the top spot in the rankings, and that Lauren Luce should not have been allowed to walk, according to the school’s policy on graduates younger than 17.
Rhonda Zeringue said she was told that the top three ranked students were the ones who had previously spoken during the schools Ace Banquet, an academic banquet that was held in April
“And those three students weren’t Lauren Luce,” she said.
The wording of the St. James Parish School District Pupil Progression Policy reads as follows:
“Accelerated students who earn the required number of Carnegie Units to graduate shall be awarded their diploma but shall not be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony, unless seventeen years of age on or before the date of graduation.
“Accelerated students shall maintain the right to participate in the graduation ceremony the ensuing year, shall retain all rights and privileges of regular graduates, (i.e. upper quartile, scholarships, etc.), and shall be recognized as an accelerated student.”
“She’s 16. We’re looking at this as the ensuing year that she’s going to have the privileges of regular graduates,” said Rhonda Zeringue.
Rhonda Zeringue said that when she addressed the matter with administrators, Gaynell Albert, the administrative director for St. James Parish Public School System, initially told her that the clause should have been removed altogether from the school’s policy.
Rhonda Zeringue went on to say that the school has changed its story as she has done more investigation
“First they said, ‘Oh, we should’ve taken the page out.’ Then they were using the trump card of ‘Whenever the state changes it, it supersedes the old policy.’ I called the state department of education, and the state department said each school system has to have their own PPP,” said Zeringue. “They don’t determine whether or not you can have scholarships or whether you have the rights of a regular graduate — that’s in the details of your school. This is their policy and they need to follow their policy.”
Rhonda Zeringue said she realizes Lauren Luce was within her rights to receive a diploma but does not feel she should have eligible to receive scholarships and other benefits with the other graduates. Because of her ranking, Lauren Luce received a $4,000 scholarship from the Stark Foundation Scholarship.
The superintendent for his part has remained tight-lipped regarding the issue. He said that the school district has already sought legal advice regarding the dispute.
“Rhonda Zeringue believes that her daughter should have been the recipient of a local scholarship based on her class ranking. She believes that our PPP states that an early graduate is not eligible to be awarded scholarships. My daughter, who is 16, had a GPA of 4.4167, and Rhonda’s daughter tied with another student for second place, with a GPA of 4.2727,” said Alonzo Luce.
“From the school district’s perspective, this issue is closed. The attorney from Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice, and the attorney from our district attorney’s office both believe that an early graduate can receive the scholarship in question,” he continued.
Rhonda Zeringue claims she has heard other parents and students say Lauren Luce has received preferential treatment before, though she did not cite specific examples.
She has been advised to pursue the matter further despite the hold-ups she has experienced so far. She spoke briefly at a School Board meeting earlier this month but received no action since it was listed on the agenda as a discussion item. Also, comments from the public are limited to five minutes, so she had difficulty explaining the whole situation in her allotted time. She said she plans to request the minutes from a previous board meeting before attempting to do so again.