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Life's a beach for many students on senior skip day

The day of hooky is considered a rite of passage for graduating students, and many parents call in with excuses for their children. But some school officials aren't smiling.

Published April 14, 2006

TAMPA -- In past years, seniors chose clever dates such as 04/04/04 and 05/05/05 for their skip days. This year it was 04/05/06. They arrived at local beaches with towels in book bags and sunscreen to hide potentially incriminating sunburns.

"It's like our one day to get out," said 17-year-old Kelly Carroll, a senior at Wharton High School as she adjusted her bikini top in the midday sun on Clearwater Beach.

Like prom and Grad Bash, senior skip day is considered a rite of passage for graduating students, a well-deserved break after 13 years of school. Many parents condoned the day of hooky and called in with excuses of doctors appointments or illness.

District attendance records showed 2,485 seniors were absent on 04/05/06. On the previous Wednesday, 861 were gone.

"It's not sanctioned, although it's tradition," said district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. The district relaxes its attendance incentives for seniors. They can exempt all final exams for the final semester as long as they don't exceed five absences at traditional schools or three absences at block schedule schools.

"Seriously, they need to make it to where you're allowed to do it," said Alex Vega, as waves lapped his feet. He took the day off with Jessie Berry and Annel Hidalgo, seniors at Tampa Bay Technical High School.

"I was like, if everybody else skips, then I'll skip. A lot of people skipped," he said gesturing to a crowd of teens romping along the shore.

Farther up on the beach, a Wharton senior who said she had been drinking earlier dozed on her beach towel between a group of college students on spring break. Her parents would be mad if they knew, she said.

Those comments concern people such as Middleton High principal Jim Gatlin

"Over my years, I've seen some terrible things happen on these days,'' he said. "Everything from fights to automobile accidents, overdoses."

He warned students that if they skipped on 04/05/06 they could not exempt their finals or attend Senior Send-off Day. Still, about 190 of the schools 500 seniors were out, he said.

"I understand childish shenanigans, but my bottom line is I do have a greater responsibility to uphold the integrity of the school," he said.

Like sore throats during flu season, word of skip day spread through schools, often by text messages or social networking Web sites. Hot spots in Tampa were Ben T. Davis Beach, MacFarlane Park and Adventure Island.

Senior Ashley Gonzalez normally starts school at Leto High at 7:25 a.m. but on skip day slept in till 8:45 a.m. After breakfast at McDonald's, she headed to the beach with some friends. Later, they planned to go to a birthday party.

Seniors who don't participate usually find themselves in the minority.

"You can tell when it's senior skip day,'' said Cameron Brooks, one of the few seniors at Plant High who showed up for class on the school's skip day March 31. "In my AP statistics class, there were maybe three people.

Teachers noticed, too.

At Wharton, senior Alie Jones had no assignments due on April 5 because her teachers had expected a lot of no shows.

Seniors forewarned Blake High English teacher Kimberly Padley, who didn't change her plans. "I had really low attendance," she said.

At Robinson High, about half the seniors were missing in Eric Vance's algebra class.

"Some of the seniors told me, 'It's senior skip day. What am I going to miss?' "

Vance canceled the quiz he had scheduled and moved on to new material.

"They're seniors. They need to be accountable if they're going to miss work," he said. "It's not fair to everyone else who came to reteach another day."

That said, Vance remembers his own senior skip day.

He spent it at the beach.

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at or 813 226-3321.

[Last modified April 13, 2006, 14:22:45]

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