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Student barred from high school graduation

By By Chris Cole
Published On: May 30 2013 12:55:07 AM CDT

Student only participated in extracurricular activities at the school

GRACE, Idaho -

A local high school senior was barred from participating in a graduation ceremony at Grace High School Wednesday night.

Matt Van Buren actively participated in Grace High School extracurricular activities.

But academically, he was home schooled through the Idaho Virtual Academy.

Therein lies the dilemma between the school district saying he's not a Grace High School student, and Matt and his parents saying he is.

It started during his junior year, when Matt's grades and GPA were plummeting. He and his parents decided to bring him home and see if that would help.

"Our son and a lot of other kids benefit from home school better than they do in that class environment,” said Joe Hardy, Matt's father.

Joe and Denise Hardy say Matt excelled away from the distractions of friends in the classroom.

"When people ask where I went to high school, I’m not going to say I went to the Idaho Digital Virtual Academy,” said Matt. “I'm going to say I went to Grace."

Matt says his ties to the school were deeper than academics. He was a Grace High School athlete -- lettering throughout his sports career.

But Superintendent Jamie Holyoak says Matt isn't considered a student.

"He just didn't take our course work, in our district, from our staff,” Holyoak said. “We use that to vet our graduates for participation in commencement."

The Hardys don't buy it. They claim they spoke with the principal of the school in February, asking if he could participate, and the principal brought back an answer from the superintendent – no.

Denise said in their conversation, the principal mentioned thoughts about the school district not wanting to set a precedence of students going to school online or at home and then being allowed to participate in the ceremony of a school they weren't academically a part of.

The Hardys believe the school district is worried about losing money to kids going to be home schooled, something the superintendent says is a real worry, but not the basis for the denial.

They began to appeal to Holyoak several times, but were never able to get a hold of him directly.

Students in Matt's school even purchased a cap and gown for him, expecting him to be at the ceremony and walk with them.

Then, the Hardys say in a school board decision on May 23, the school board concluded he didn't meet the credit requirements in the subject of history. The Hardys stated in that meeting the school board said they denied him walking in the ceremony because Grace High School requires two more history credits than he had completed.

However, requirements for the Idaho Digital Virtual Academy are the same as Grace High School, along with all the schools across the state.

"I absolutely feel this is a matter of discrimination,” said Joe.. “It's because he wasn't there, so they lost money on him as far as being an academic student, and that's what it's all about."

Holyoak says the district wants what's best for each individual student.

"We're proud of him, and we really love him,” he said, “and we want the best for him in the future."

But for this lineman MVP on the football team, who's family even received bills for Matt as a Grace High School student, and who is featured in their yearbook as a senior, he feels very much a part of the high school.

Holyoak, who received his master's degree online, said he understands the reasons Matt went to the Idaho Virtual Academy, but as they have their own ceremony, he should go to theirs, instead of wanting to participate in a graduation ceremony for a school he did not go to.

"I feel bad he's going to view this as a missed opportunity,” Holyoak stated, “because missed opportunities are hard to get back."

"Most the community thinks I'm getting shafted a little bit,” Matt said. “I guess it is what it is."

Idaho law says students can enroll in a home school program and still participate in extracurricular activities at public schools, but that doesn't mean they are a student of that school.

The Idaho Virtual Academy's graduation is on Thursday, May 30. Matt and his family said they will not be attending. 

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