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Co-valedictorian banned from graduation

A rift with Sunnyside High School Principal Brian Hart kept 2008 co-valedictorian Matt Barr from graduating with other SHS seniors this past Friday.

Barr's name was in the school graduation program and he was scheduled to speak.

Things changed, Barr says, when Hart told him to get a new cap (mortarboard) because it had sparkle decorations on the top and bottom. Barr wore the cap the night before at baccalaureate.

He also says Hart was afraid he would "say something in my speech that would ruin graduation."

That's because Barr says as co-valedictorian he was overlooked when Hart selected four finalists for a $25,000 state scholarship. Barr said the top four seniors in the class should have been nominated.

Barr is an Eagle Scout and served as senior class vice president and drama club president at SHS. Yet, he says, Hart told him he wasn't nominated because he lacked evidence of leadership and community service experience.

Things came to a head, said the co-valedictorian, when Hart again raised the scholarship issue, and lack of leadership/service, at a meeting he called with Barr and his mother Ruth just before graduation

"I pulled out my Eagle Scout card, threw it on the desk and it bounced and hit him (Hart) on the elbow. He called it assault and said no one could graduate with that," Barr said.

Ruth Barr was present at the meeting. She says she understands the punishment and the need to respect authority.

But, she also feels Hart crossed the line.

Barr said Hart told her son three times that if he changed his graduation speech by one line he would have him "arrested and taken away in front of 3,000 people."

In the days since her son was banned from the graduation ceremony, Ruth Barr says 75 families have called her and said they were also shortchanged by Hart at the graduation ceremony.

When contacted for comment, Hart first consulted with school district legal staff before issuing a prepared statement.

"We want this time to be a time of celebration for graduates," Hart said. Though confirming "this student did not participate" in graduation ceremonies, Hart called the Barr episode "a private matter" and wanted to respect the Barr family's privacy.

Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole echoed a similar refrain.

"I can't talk about it. If a student didn't go through with graduation ceremonies they either chose not to on their own or did not meet a school rule for going to the ceremony," Cole said.

He said school administrators have to keep discipline issues confidential.

The graduation tiff between Barr and Hart closes out three years of acrimony that began, said the teen, when Barr was just a sophomore.

"The principal and I have never really liked each other," Barr said.

In his sophomore year Barr says he had to take a pre-calculus class from an on-line college because Hart told him it was unavailable to sophomores at the high school. Yet, Barr said he knew of other sophomores who were able to take the class at school.

Barr says he still doesn't know when or if he'll get his diploma, but took solace in the fact "they can't stop my transcripts."

Those transcripts have earned him regent scholar recognition at WSU. Barr says he has sufficient grants and scholarships to pay for his books and tuition, but not for room and board.

The computer science and theater major says he will likely work

Matt Barr


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