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Community Service Cheating Scandal Puts Illinois Students' Diplomas at Risk

Should students who lied about volunteering not be allowed to graduate high school?

file photo
file photo
By Lorraine Swanson

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.”

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Many high schools have community service requirements. 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.”

Should schools require community service hours to graduate? Tell us in the comments.

jykwong May 21, 2014 at 12:58 PM
Mr. Erdakos in the article is missing the point. This isn't a "punishment" for forging documents--this is simply a natural consequence of not meeting your graduation requirements. Just as any student who missed a required class would not be allowed to graduate, these students are not being allowed to graduate because they didn't meet the school's graduation requirements. If the school wanted to punish them, they would do something like raise the required number of volunteer hours or dock their GPA.
ralph May 21, 2014 at 03:16 PM
There is another guy who is involved in cheating and stealing? Yeah he was a community organizer. What was his name?? He was from Illinois also. What was that guys name??? Oh yeah. OBAMA. Seems the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in this state.
Toyeminator May 21, 2014 at 03:48 PM
Wake up, parents, and quit covering for and coddling your child. A deal is a deal. If you lesson the consequences, you ARE reinforcing they 'got away with it.' You're teaching them contracts and agreements are to be broken. Mr. Erdakos cares more about his family missing a ceremony and skims over the fact his son cheated. Why didn't his son negotiate early on his assistance to the vet as part of his service? In my eyes, the son's good deeds were negated by his fraud. Doing a good deed does not ERASE cheating a community out of some potential service.
RB May 21, 2014 at 08:05 PM
For those of you who say that service hours should NOT be REQUIRED, think of it this way: what community is being serviced? The answer is simple...the community whose money (via tuition or taxes) that helps pay to keep the school open. Shouldn't the kids be taught to give back?
Marty June 15, 2014 at 11:46 PM
Why is this newsworthy? Sounds like something that could've been settled without the intervention of a pathetic news source.

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