School board's decision not allowing Monessen student to walk at graduation causes uproar

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MONESSEN, Pa. - The decision by the Monessen School Board to not allow a graduating senior the right to walk with his classmates at graduation in June is causing uproar across the Pittsburgh area.

Monessen Superintendent Linda Marcolini said she and Principal Brian Sutherland fully endorse allowing Chavas Rawlins to walk with his classmates.

“However, the school board feels differently,” Marcolini said. “It was a board decision. I have nine bosses and I support their decision 100 percent.”

Although Marcolini would not comment on the reasons the board gave her for not permitting Rawlins to participate in commencement, it appears some comments he made on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter — not only during his attempts to graduate early, but also in support of three football teammates who were expelled from school after an incident in which drugs and weapons were found in their lockers at the stadium — may have played a part in the decision.

“Chavas took some liberties with some comments he made (on social media) that probably didn‘t help him,” Marcolini said. “He thought it was a given that he could just graduate early and then he defended his teammates. He‘s a kid.”

She paused for a moment and said, “Everyone has ghosts in their closets.”

Rawlins, who was a star athlete on Monessen’s football team, received a scholarship offer from West Virginia University prior to the start of the football season. He then announced a bold intention to amp up his studies and graduate early from Monessen so he could leave for West Virginia and get started early on the next stage of his life.

Rawlins’ last day as a student at Monessen is Jan. 17 and he starts classes at WVU on Jan. 21.

But even though Rawlins is leaving early to jump-start his college career, he said one thing that has been important to him from the start is to walk in commencement exercises with his classmates — his friends — and to enjoy a moment that only happens once in a lifetime.

Rawlins’ football coach, Andy Pacak, called Rawlins “the kind of player and young man who comes along once in a lifetime.” Pacak also said his children see Rawlins as a role model, and he hopes the school board will revisit the issue and let him walk at commencement.

Marcolini said if the decision were hers, Rawlins would be invited back for the June event with the other seniors.

“I would absolutely bring him back,” she said. “I love him to death. I have loved him since the first time I met him. He‘s a quality kid, very congenial and polite with a great head on his shoulders. He always gives me a hug when I see him.”

A social media campaign is underway pushing to allow the star quarterback to come back and attend graduation with his classmates. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch tweeted, “Do the right thing and let Chavas walk at graduation.”

"We had people earlier talking about it, and they don't think it's right or fair. They feel that this young boy earned his way and he should walk," Monessen resident Rita Bercik said.

Channel 11’s Courtney Brennan reached out to Rawlins on Twitter and he said he didn’t want to comment. The school board also has not commented on the situation.

 

Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.