OAK LAWN, Illinois – It's the easiest way to get credits in high school: spend a few hours helping out your community. But for students at one Illinois high school that was apparently too much to ask – and now their high school diplomas are at risk.
The students lied about volunteering in their community and went so far as to forge names. Parents were informed last week that their children would not be allowed to participate in graduation exercises, nor receive their high school diplomas, because their child falsified documents stating he or she had completed the required number of community service hours.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t find out about it until the last minute,” said Dr. Michael Riordan, Superintendent and Principal of Oak Lawn Community High School.
Since 2008, OLCHS students have been required to complete 24 hours of community service during their four years of high school, starting with that year’s incoming freshman class
“That’s six hours per year,” Riordan said. “We’ve had this in place going on six years. This is the fourth group of kids who’ve been required to meet this requirement.”Maryland was the first state in the country to implement such a requirement, although the requirements differ among its 24 school districts. Schools generally have a list of potential volunteer organizations students can choose from, which was the case at Oak Lawn.
Earlier this year, students started turning in documentation stating they had volunteered at the Oak Lawn Park District’s Stony Creek Golf Course. Last Thursday, the deadline for seniors to turn in service hours, school officials learned that the park district general manager’s signature had been forged.
Most of the 47 students who were caught acknowledged they had lied about volunteering for the golf course. According to Riordan, it was one student who was forging the general manager’s signature.
A quick decision was made to withhold students’ diplomas until they had completed the required community service hours, as well as deny their participation in the graduation ceremony.
“Participating in graduation ceremonies is a privilege, not a right,” he said. “We wish the kids had thought better. It’s a shame and not something we’re proud of. At the same time we need to uphold the integrity of the school and graduation. You cannot falsify documents and submit them whether its to your school, employer or the government.”
Max Erdakos admitted that his son bought a forged document from another student who was forging the general manager’s signature and then selling documents to other students.
“I don’t get a call until Friday that my son wasn’t graduating,” Erdakos said, who admits that his son was in the wrong. “Isn’t this a little severe? I know kids should be punished for it, but he made a mistake. All they’re doing is hurting the parents and grandparents.”
Erdakos said his son worked full time and completed the required credits for graduation in November. He was scheduled to participate in Wednesday’s graduation.
“I don’t think the punishment fits the crime,” Erdakos said.
“My son has been cutting grass for a disabled neighbor who is a vet and shoveled his snow and didn’t take a dime,” he said. “What better way to teach kids how to serve their community than by helping a disabled vet. This is killing my son because of how much it’s hurting his mother.”