Saying that the situation created “a troubling impression of retaliatory motivation,” the ACLU of Rhode Island and the R.I. Disability Law Center have called on the Barrington School Committee to issue a high school diploma to Molly Coffey, the Barrington High School senior whose plight led to the General Assembly’s passage of a law establishing a moratorium on the state’s “high stakes testing” requirement for graduation.

Despite the law’s passage in June, the Barrington School Department has refused to issue Molly a diploma. In a letter to the school committee on October 22, the ACLU and RIDLC said the school department’s “inconsistent  and seemingly ad hoc rationales for this decision only  highlight the school department’s own apparent failure to abide by state graduation procedures, and create a troubling impression of retaliatory motivation.”

Under the now delayed state regulations, Molly was deemed to have “failed” the math portion of the NECAP test and was denied a diploma even though she had obtained a higher score than many other students across the state who qualified for a diploma under the Department of Education’s so-called “progress towards proficiency” test score standard. The school department then refused to grant Molly a waiver from the NECAP test requirement, even though hundreds of students in other school districts were granted waivers in similar circumstances. Molly’s situation and the school district’s response “put a face to these glaring inequities,” encouraging the General Assembly to act to delay the requirement.

However, since then, the joint letter to the school committee states, “school officials have given Molly a shifting and confusing array of reasons why they claim she still does not qualify for a diploma, none of which withstand scrutiny. In fact, these reasons – which now have nothing to do with math, but instead appear to be that she did not score well enough on a World History final exam in her sophomore year and an English exam in her junior year – have all the earmarks of straw-grasping.”

The letter notes that the school district has acknowledged that Molly obtained all the class credits that were required in order to graduate; that correspondence from school officials earlier in the year pointed only to Molly’s math score on the NECAP as the obstacle to earning a diploma; and that the waiver rejection Molly received in May, after her final math NECAP scores were received, made no note of these other alleged exam failures. In fact, the letter points out, “under school district policy, her waiver eligibility should not have even been considered if she had failed to meet other criteria for graduation.”

Under the circumstances, the groups said, “we cannot help but wonder if the continued obstinacy over Molly’s diploma is a direct response to her key role in getting the NECAP requirement overturned.”  The letter concluded: “Molly deserves, and is entitled to, a diploma. The passage of the moratorium law should have been the end of the matter.”

The groups sent the letter in anticipation of a public hearing on Molly’s appeal of the school department’s decision, which the Barrington School Committee is expected to hold on October 30th.