McDuffie County Board of Education members are sticking to their guns and upholding a policy that will keep some students from participating in Thomson High School graduation ceremonies.
School officials said 33 seniors would not walk this year because they had either not met requirements in the classroom or did not pass at least one of the parts of the Georgia High School Graduation Test.
The policy is not a new one; it has been on the school system's books since the 1997-1998 school year.
But last July, school board members voted to clarify the rule, adding specific graduation requirements for students to meet.
"All we did was clarify" an existing policy, Superintendent Mark Petersen said.
Those students that don't walk have another chance to take the exam in July and then graduate in a December ceremony.
The issue came to a head at Thursday night's school board meeting, just nine days before Thomson High School's May 21 graduation.
More than two dozen parents and students converged on the meeting, complaining that the policy is not fair and asked board members to overturn it.
"You talk about 'no child left behind,'" said parent Catherine Brown. "These kids are being left out."
Many of the parents at the meeting said they had already purchased caps, gowns and other graduation paraphernalia.
"I'm a single parent," Imogene Crowder said to board members. "I'm struggling trying to send three kids through school."
Parents also questioned how their students are being prepared for the test, especially the science section.
"Is it all our students or is it the school system or is it our teachers?" asked parent Emma Jean Lazenby Williams. "Are they teaching what they're supposed to?"
But school leaders say the answer to that question lies in the graduation test scores released last week. Dr. Petersen said gains like an 8 percent jump in scores for juniors who took the test for the first-time and a 14 percent leap in science scores for black students show that targeted programs -- like after-school tutoring efforts -- are working.
Several parents begged board members to just let their children walk across the stage -- even if they only got to pick up a piece of "construction paper tied with a ribbon."
But school board members weren't swayed by the arguments.
In a short statement released Friday morning, school officials said they would not allow the students to participate after "careful consideration."
"Without a doubt, they were standing strong," Dr. Petersen said.