Six credits short, student wants to walk with her graduating class

There are likely two schools of thought on a South Dakota school’s decision to deny a degree to a senior who is six credits short of graduation. There is the “rules are rules” caucus, and there is the “have a heart” party.

There’s enough information in that paragraph for most people to choose one side or the other.

Here’s more: Meredith Erck, 17, couldn’t complete all her classwork in time because she’s been fighting colon and brain cancer, the Rapid City Journal reports.

“The commencement program is meant to honor and recognize all graduates who have met the criteria set forth by the state of South Dakota for graduation and have earned their high school diplomas,” district officials said in a statement to the newspaper. “If we grant one exception, we have opened the door to any and all future requests. High school administrators believe that allowing exceptions diminishes the accomplishments of the graduates.”

“She just wanted to participate in graduation with the kids she’s been in school with since kindergarten,” her mother said. “She knows she’s not finished, she knows she’s not getting a diploma.”

Her mom said Meredith did her best to keep up with school work while she was in the hospital, dutifully studying her math, English, and history lessons for hours at a time between chemo and radiation treatments that left her physically drained and mentally depleted.

“She’s a trooper,” said Meredith’s grandmother, Sue Polanco. “She just keeps on going.”

There were times, Laura Polanco recalled, when her daughter would stare at a math problem she’d just completed and struggle to remember what steps she’d taken to get the answer.

She has spent the last 2.5 years enduring physical and occupational therapy. She mostly gets around in a wheelchair now and can walk only short distances. Anything more and she risks a fall.

If she were to walk during Central’s graduation ceremony this weekend, she’d do so with the help of her brother, Martin, leaning on his arm as the two of them made their way across the stage. They’re very close, Polanco said of her children.

Meredith’s illness has taken her away from her classmates, away from school activities she used to enjoy, such as choir and orchestra, and has robbed her of normal teenage experiences like going to the movies or having sleepovers with her friends.

A school official had a counter-offer. Meredith and her mother could sit in chairs near her graduating class.

“Meredith’s mother is not asking for something outrageous,” the girl’s social worker wrote to the school. “She is only asking that, for once, Meredith be given the opportunity to experience something ’normal,’ as her short life has been anything but normal for the last several years.”