The Washington Post

Admissions 101: Should lawyers sanitize high school transcripts?

Phil Cox, a sharp-eyed newspaper reader, sent me a link to a provocative story in the San Mateo County Times, a newspaper I delivered when I was 12. It reports that parents of a student at Sequoia High School in Redwood City sued when their son was removed from a sophomore honors English class for copying and sharing homework.

This is relevant to the college admissions process because one of the parents’ concerns is that this will put a black mark on the student’s high school transcript and kill his chances of attending his first-choice college. High school counselors, particularly in affluent neighorhoods, have told me their own stories of lawyers being called in by parents to erase any sign of disciplinary action from anything college admissions offices might see.

Does this make sense to you? Should the high schools risk lawsuits in order to protect their records? Should wealthy families be allowed to distort the admissions process in this way? Or are they right to argue that the offense is often minor --- like what Jack Berghouse’s son did at Sequoia High — and the high school should not sacrifice the kid’s future to its rules?

“What university will it keep him out of?” Berghouse said, according to Times reporters Sharon Noguchi and Bonnie Eslinger. “Will that have far-ranging consequences in what kind of job he can get?”

I personally know of a student who managed to get into Princeton after the family’s lawyer successfully pressured the high school to remove any hint of her cheating on a test. Teenagers will make mistakes, but bad deeds should have consequences. Is bringing in the lawyers the right way for a parent to go, and what should the high school do when threatened in this way?

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.


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