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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Survey Ordered on Valedictorian Policy : Traditions: Angry residents decry Saugus High’s decision to no longer honor its highest-achieving senior.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

School district officials have ordered a survey to decide whether local high schools should honor a senior class valedictorian, following complaints from residents angry over one school’s decision to drop the tradition.

Parents and other community members on Wednesday submitted petitions with more than 100 signatures to trustees of the William S. Hart Union High School District, calling for a valedictorian policy at the city’s four high schools.

The class valedictorian is usually the student with the best grades.

Residents say the decision by Saugus High School to drop the tradition this past school year was a foolish exercise in political correctness that kills an incentive for academic excellence. Saugus school officials said the competition for top grades was bad for students.

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“A lack of respect for time-honored tradition appears to be creeping into this district,” said David Dains, a Saugus resident who has no children enrolled at local high schools.

Board President Paula Olivares said an in-depth survey of students, parents and school officials on the issue would begin in November or December.

Megan Hanrion, president of the senior class at Saugus High and student representative for the Hart board during the 1992-93 school year, spoke against having a valedictorian during the board meeting.

Megan, who is the daughter of board member Patricia Hanrion, said honors classes are not available in subjects such as art and foreign languages, putting students interested in those classes at a disadvantage to students who excel in other disciplines.

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“It seems the only subjects suitable for honors classes are math and science,” she said.

Saugus High officials decided at the end of the 1992-93 school year to eliminate valedictorian, salutatorian and top-10 honors for students. Instead, any student with a 3.75 or higher grade point average was designated as an honors student. School officials said the competition for the top spot grew so fierce one student became suicidal after losing.

The school was the second in Santa Clarita to eliminate the honors. William S. Hart Union High School in Newhall has not honored a valedictorian for more than 10 years.

Debate over the issue began this June when Mary Lou Bjelke complained to the Hart board about Saugus High’s policy. Her son, Brad, 18, finished at the top of the Saugus senior class with a 4.44 grade point average.

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The controversy generated national interest, and a Los Angeles radio station gave Brad Bjelke the chance to read his valedictorian speech over the air.


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