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WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — An honor roll student in Waterbury learned a tough lesson — having a 3.8 GPA at the end of your senior doesn’t mean you’ll get your diploma.
When Jacqueline Henry, a student at Waterbury Career Academy (WCA), went to pick up her diploma recently, she got a surprise at school.
“[I was] excited to go get my diploma, and I walked in, greeted my teachers and I was told to wait,” Henry said.
Her diploma wasn’t there — and it wasn’t a mistake. Henry said the Superintendent of Waterbury Public Schools, Dr. Verna Ruffin, revoked her diploma because of an unsanctioned graduation event Henry and her family threw for the WCA Class of 2020 off of school grounds.
“Because we didn’t get a graduation the way I hoped,” Henry said. “I took the initiative to plan a senior event following the CDC guidelines.”
Henry’s parents rented out a parking lot at a church in Waterbury and held an event where students would walk across a stage one at a time — in their caps and gowns — and their family members could take pictures.
Henry said she organized it with safety in mind. The district has not planned traditional ceremonies because of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s hit Waterbury hard.
The decision to not allow Henry to have her diploma has become a contentious and controversial one in the city.
“I don’t know if this is something that the superintendent feels that she has the need to show power or whatever,” said 2nd District Alderman Vernon Matthews. Jr. — WCA is in his district. “It’s sad to see this.”
Students started an online petition urging the district to give Henry her diploma. That petition has soared to more than 4,000 signatures.
News 8 requested an on-camera interview with Dr. Ruffin. She declined. However, district spokeswoman, Sujata Wycoff, provided News 8 with this statement:
“The conversation about a possible meeting between Superintendent Ruffin and Ms. Henry, along with her parents, is ongoing. We are encouraged by the possibility of that occurring soon.”
Henry’s father told News 8 he thinks this is a “bullying tactic” by the superintendent.
“I can rent out a facility and do an event if we chose to, and fortunately, we chose to do it in a safe manner,” said Pete Henry, Jacqueline’s father. “I even asked doctors if it was safe.”
Henry and her dad said the support from the community has been tremendous — an overwhelming number of people showing support for them — especially with that online petition to push the superintendent to give Henry her diploma.
“It was definitely a great moment to see everybody unite and support me,” Henry said.
She also said she’s getting support from Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary. That support came during a meeting Wednesday at City Hall.
“He was grateful and supported us in our decision,” she said.
Henry hopes to meet with Dr. Ruffin soon. She hopes to get a public apology and, of course, her diploma. She has plans to move on from this and become an emergency medical technician. She says she wants to help people in her community.
Her father is proud of her class and character — graduating with honor.
“Oh, I love my daughter, and she knows it,” said Pete. “I love her courage. I love her ability to display leadership.”
They hope one day soon she’ll be able to display her high school diploma.