The District government is paying five students nearly $400 each to take a required Latin class this summer after parents at Banneker High School complained that the school had not provided an adequate substitute when a teacher was absent during the school year.

It is the first time the city has offered to pay students to make up work that is required for graduation. The city offers numerous non-credit classes as part of its summer jobs program for 14- to 21-year-olds, but until now these have always been exclusively enrichment classes.

All students at Banneker, the city's model academic school, must take one year of Latin to graduate.

Parents said the Latin teacher missed a month of school in December for jury duty, and then was absent from February through the end of the school year because of prolonged illness. School officials said the school had trouble finding a qualified substitute. No teacher on the city's substitute teacher list was certified to teach Latin, said Principal Linette Adams.

"I looked everywhere at local universities and private schools who could assist us," she said. "We hired general substitutes . . . . Eventually we found people who are willing to get certified."

Parents said early this spring they complained at a PTA meeting that their youngsters had not received the instruction needed to learn the material. Parents and Adams said they agreed that the 84 students affected should get a mark of incomplete for the course and be required to take the class again.

"It became apparent that Latin was just a study hall," said Glenda Partee, mother of 14-year-old Eryn Scott. "We just said that it's a joke, and we did not want to further that kind of irresponsibility by giving {the students} grades."

The school told the students they could make up the work in after-school sessions this past spring, in before-school lessons next fall or in a summer session.

"The amount of work they were missing was just too big a chunk" to make up without more classwork, said PTA President Vernon Smith.

Fifty-eight chose to do the work last spring, 17 chose next fall and nine signed up to do it this summer. Only five of the nine are doing it as part of the summer jobs program.

To round out the session, parents suggested offering these and other Banneker students enrichment classes in laboratory science, writing, SAT preparation and math preparation, Johnson said. In all, 89 other students signed up.

"It wasn't something {city officials} were that thrilled about, paying the {five} students or having us a part of the summer youth program at all," Smith said. "But our thinking was they could be doing something else and earning the minimum wage. Those who would rather be here and learn something should not be penalized."

Students in the class last week said they would not have given their summer to making up the work if it had not included a paycheck.

LaToya Pearson, 15, of Northwest Washington, for example, said that to make up her Latin class she had to give up returning to the enrichment program at University of the District of Columbia, where she earned money through the jobs program last summer.

"I figure if I have to be here, I might as well get paid for it," Pearson said.