ActivePaper Archive Judge upholds diploma decision - Oklahoman, 6/3/2010

Judge upholds diploma decision

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Oanh Kim Pham, center, with host parents Perry and Angie Newman. PHOTO BY JAMES GIBBARD, TULSA WORLD

TULSA — A judge on Wednesday let stand a court ruling that entitles a former Vietnamese exchange student to a Sperry High School diploma.

Tulsa County District Court Judge Linda Morrissey made her ruling after hearing about 90 minutes of pleadings from Sperry School District attorney Stephen F. Bulleigh and attorney Perry Newman, who represented former Sperry student Oanh “Annie” Pham, 18, of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Morrissey on Wednesday denied an emergency motion by Bulleigh to vacate her judgment on May 20, when she ruled Pham should be allowed to receive a Sperry diploma based on a state law permitting an exception to graduation requirements.

The Sperry School Board voted 2-1 on May 13 against making that exception.

Pham, who was hosted in the United States by Newman’s family, participated in graduation ceremonies on May 22 but has not received her diploma.

“We knew all along what the law said and to have a judge confirm every argument that we made to the board, every position that we took, every authority that we presented to the board is wonderful,” Newman said after the Wednesday ruling. “A member of the board of education made a comment that he wanted a judge to decide the issue. And a judge has now.”

Morrissey deliberated in chambers about 45 minutes before rendering her decision. Bulleigh declined to comment on the ruling and whether he thought the district would appeal.

Newman said he anticipated an appeal. Pham returned to Vietnam earlier this week and is expected back in Oklahoma in mid-August to attend Oklahoma State University.

Pham enrolled in the Sperry district as a senior in August and received straight A’s, taking Advanced Placement courses and scoring a 26 on her ACT exam.

Accepted to Tulsa and Oklahoma universities and Oklahoma State, she was selected to receive a scholarship of more than $8,000 a year from OSU.

“We’re really thrilled for Annie that this chapter of her life is over and she can look forward to continuing on with college,” Newman said.

According to the Oklahoma Education Code, the state Board of Education shall adopt rules to ensure that students who transfer from out of state after their junior year shall not be denied, because of differing graduation requirements, the opportunity to receive a standard diploma.

The law allows Oklahoma school boards to make exceptions to graduation requirements on an individual basis.

Bulleigh argued Wednesday that the phrase “out-of-state” refers to the transfer of students from state-to-state.

Morrissey disagreed.

The judge said the statutory language “from outof-state must be taken as its plain and ordinary meaning, as applying to any student who came to Sperry from any location outside the state of Oklahoma.”

Bulleigh wrote in his motion about the May 13 vote that “such an act is wholly within the discretion of Sperry. Thus, Plaintiff cannot establish she has the right to a diploma.”

Morrissey found that a Sperry transcript certified in November 2009 showed that Pham had earned 39 credits. The judge said the only written evidence to the contrary is an undated, unsigned and uncertified graduation checklist that indicated that Pham had eight credits.

“The court finds that the petitioner has earned and exceeded the necessary requirements for graduation ” the judge said.