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Students buy flags, earn extra credit

Hillsborough school officials defend a teacher who promised a grade boost to students who bought patriotic stickers from her.

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2002


TAMPA -- In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Leto High School chemistry teacher Roohi Junejo told students they could buy American flag stickers from her to boost their grades.

By buying a sticker for $1 each, a student could raise his grade by .01. The more stickers bought, the more the grade would jump.

At least seven students spent a total of $20 on the stickers last fall. Though school administrators dispute his claim, one student said his B went to an A after he bought five stickers.

Some students were outraged by the practice, viewing it as grade selling. Some educators said Junejo may have violated the state ethics code by which all teachers must abide.

But school officials found nothing wrong with her peddling stickers for extra credit. They decided against an investigation or disciplinary action, saying no student's final grade was changed because of the bonus points.

"Her intent was patriotic and humanitarian," said Hillsborough County schools spokesman Mark Hart. "We aren't going to sanction her for supporting the victims of Sept. 11."

The state Department of Education leaves it up to each school district to determine how to hand out extra credit.

In Hillsborough, bonus points are usually given for academic work, Hart said. He acknowledged that selling them "in general is not a good practice. It was an exceptional case and it was an exceptional circumstance. I don't think too many would find fault with it."

Junejo told district officials she donated the $20 raised to the American Red Cross and gave her bosses a confirmation letter.

A Leto teacher for the past three years, Junejo said Thursday that what happened "has been exaggerated." She refused to comment further.

With two master's degrees from the University of Karachi in Pakistan, Junejo, 38, worked as the deputy commissioner for the Pakistani government's ministry of finance before she was hired at Leto.

Regardless of her experience or teaching ability, sophomore Brian Leon said, he was so upset about Junejo selling credit that he wrote an editorial titled "What Would You Do for a Higher Grade?" for the school's paper, the Leto Legend.

He said Junejo offered the extra credit to students with borderline scores so they could boost their grades on their first nine-week report card.

"I felt appalled that she would actually do that," said Leon, 16. "That had nothing to do with the class work we were doing."

But Leon's editorial never made it to print. Leon said he was threatened with suspension if he published the piece, which ended this way: "To the teacher who is doing this I ask you, do you think that by doing this you're looking out for the best interest of your students?"

After reviewing Leon's article, principal Daniel Bonilla canned it. Bonilla did not return phone calls, but Hart said the article was "inaccurate, untruthful" because no student actually had a grade changed.

Student Stephanie Adams, 18, called Junejo unfair for giving credit only to students who agreed to give her money.

"Everyone else tries as hard as they can," she said. "And then people can give money and get better grades? People don't have money for stuff like that."

But sophomore Tiffany Sallee said she was unfazed by Junejo's offer.

"Every teacher does extra credit," the 15-year-old said. "Teachers are always asking us to read a book or something."

At schools nationwide, teachers have handed out bonus points for assignments that have nothing to do with education.

Earlier this year, a Georgia court upheld a Cobb County teacher's suspension and transfer for violating the ethics code after she gave her students extra credit in exchange for feeding her miniature Beanie Baby collection. In California, students at a suburban Los Angeles high school chalked up extra points for bringing boxes of tissues to school when supplies were low.

And in Frankfort, Ky., geometry students received extra points for donating canned goods to a food drive.

Yvonne Lyons, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, said she was not aware of Junejo's situation, but called it questionable.

Teachers must abide by a code of ethics, she said. If found in violation, they can receive a letter of reprimand or even have their license revoked.

"I think it would be highly questionable to have a kid pay you for extra credit," Lyons said.

-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com.

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