There will be no graduation at Clinton Christian School this year. Instead, the school's founder will conduct a worship service honoring the class of 1978.
This compromise was agreed to yesterday by lawyers for the Rev. John C. Macon, pastor and founder of the school, and the family of Michael A. Bongiorni, the 18-year-old class valedictorian who was expelled by Macon a week ago for dancing and drinking a beer.
After the expulsion, Albert and Carol Bongiorni won a preliminary injunction in Prince George's County Circuit Court Friday ordering the school not to hold a graduation ceremony without their son.
That nkght, Macon canceled the ceremony, scheduled for the following evening, rather than allow Bongiorni to participate. Macon said he would go to court to try to overturn the injunction.
Sources said yesterday that Paul M. Nussbaum, lawyer for the Bongiorni family, and Eugene E. Pitrof, Macon's lawyer, had reached an agreement to replace the graduation ceremony with the worship service.
"To win in court at this point would have been a hollow victory," Macon said late yesterday. "The idea of graduation has now become an issue that is passe. Most of the relatives have gone home. It is really too late."
Therefore, the proposed settlement agrees that:
No graduation will be held, and the worship service honoring the seniors will be open to all, including Bongiorni. Macon can mention at 21 members of the class or not mention any of them. It appears likely that Macon will choose the latter option. No date has been set for the service to be held at the Bible Baptist Church, 6707 Woodyard Rd., Upper Marlboro.
Seniors will receive their diplomas individually, either by picking them up at the school or through the mail.
The Bonglornis will drop their suit demanding $100,000 in damages from the school as well as court costs and legal fees.
Albert Bongiorni said last night that his family has been advised by Nussbaum not to comment on the settlement.
"My client only wanted treatment equal to the others in the graduating class," Nussbaum said.
From the Bongiorni's point of view, the proposed settlement gives Michael Bongiorni equal treatment. From Macon's point of view, the settlement takes away Michael's opportunity to give the valedictory address.
Macon has maintained since Friday that "under no circumstances," would he allow Bongiorni and the two other youths involved in the alleged incident to participate in the graduation ceremony.
"I look upon this as an instance where a civil court has taken an action which involves a religious matter," Macon said. "It would be a compromise of my religious beliefs to allow those boys to participate. I just cannot do it."
In their suit, the Bongiornis stated that the school's rules against drinking and dancing were applicable only during school or at school-sponsored events.
Macon said the rules apply 24 hours a day. In addition, Bongiorni had agreed to accept seven paddles from principal Gary Beard the day before he was expelled. Beard had said that the paddles would constitute final punishment.
Parents of the other graduates have criticized Macon for his stand. "God forgives, and so should Pastor Macon," Morris Heefner said Saturday. "He isn't acting Christian," said Heefner who has two young daughters in the school.
Macon said yesterday he had checked with his registrar to see if fall registration had been affected by the controversy and said it "hasn't dropped one iota."