Dozens of seniors at Oak Lawn Community High School will not graduate with their class Wednesday after they allegedly lied about completing the school’s community service requirement.
Officials at the suburban Chicago school said at least 47 students submitted documents showing they completed their community service hours with a forged signature in a scam that started earlier in the school year. Principal Michael Riordan said a student charged other students for a forged signature from the area’s Stony Creek Golf Course.
The student who signed the forms did complete his community service hours, Riordan said. That student received a five-day suspension and also was not allowed to walk at graduation.
At first, a school official called representatives at the local park district to confirm that the golf course was part of the possible community service locations and received the name of the volunteer coordinator, which matched the signature on several forms they received.
But on the last day of senior exams, and the final day to turn in community service completion forms, Riordan said two forms were submitted with very different signatures than the one they had seen before.
“[A school counselor] contacted Stony Creek, talked to the manager and was very surprised to hear that he had not signed off on any document,” Riordan said.
Officials then determined that 47 students submitted forms with a forged signature.
The Oak Lawn Park District confirmed the students did not complete their community service.
"The Park District was contacted earlier in the week by District 229 officials to verify inconsistencies in volunteer forms. The Stony Creek general manager confirmed there were no record of these students participating in volunteer hours," the park district said in a statement. "While the Park District offers a wide range of community volunteer opportunities for area students, neither the Park District Volunteer Coordinator or Stony Creek General Manager had any knowledge of the situation."
Despite concerns from parents of the impacted students, Riordan said the school is not reconsidering the punishment.
“As a school official we need to maintain the integrity of our requirements or our expectations and it’s been our long-standing practice that if you don’t meet the requirements, if you don’t pass all your classes, and that includes completing the service learning requirement, you don’t have the privilege of walking across that stage,” Riordan said. “It’s not a right kids have, it’s a privilege they earn and they need to complete all of our requirements to do so.”
Riordan said the students must complete their service hours and submit legitimate documentation before they can receive their diplomas.
“I know a lot of these kids and they’re really, they’re good kids and they made a bad choice. They looked for the easy way out,” he said. “We really reinforce with our kids the importance of integrity and this lack of integrity is really what hurts the most and, for me, is most disappointing with our kids.”