NEW HAVEN — All it took was one complaint for the school district to make a small but significant change to diplomas that will be handed out at graduations this week.
It’s a small change that could easily go unnoticed, but Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo feels it was a necessary one.
“It’s a religious thing,” he said Tuesday. Then, regarding the deleted language: “I’m surprised it took this long for someone to notice it. We certainly don’t want to offend anyone.”
This will be the first year without the language. For example, diplomas from last year state that the diploma was awarded “this twenty-fifth day of June in the year of our Lord, Two Thousand Nine.”
Mayo said the original complaint was made last year by former Alderwoman Ina Silverman, D-25, who had a daughter at Wilbur Cross High School at the time.
Silverman could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Silverman also made the request to Mayor John DeStefano Jr., according to city spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga, and DeStefano in turn asked the Board of Education to make the change.
The reason for the request, Mayorga said, was “based on the fact that it was really an unnecessary descriptor for a public document being that none of our other public documents have such a descriptor.”
While the change to diplomas is relatively minor, school districts across the country are facing challenges to graduation traditions that include any form of or link to religion.
State Department of Education spokesman Thomas Murphy said he had not heard of other districts having similar issues with diplomas. However, he pointed to the Enfield school district’s attempts to have graduation at a large church. He said the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut filed a federal complaint claiming that holding public school graduation in a church would be a violation of the tenet of separation church and state.
“The ACLU prevailed so there was an injunction to keep the school district from going to the church facility for graduation,” Murphy said.
The school district decided not to appeal the decision, for now.
Another high-profile example is the case of a high school valedictorian at Greenwood High School in Indiana who filed a federal lawsuit to prevent prayer at graduation. The student, who was helped by the Indiana chapter of the ACLU, won the case, according to local newspapers. But the incident stirred much controversy among students and community members, many of whom thought the traditional graduation prayer should be allowed.
The phrase, “in the year of our Lord,” comes from the Latin “Anno Domini,” which was abbreviated A.D. and traditionally placed at the beginning of a year to indicate the number of years since the birth of Jesus, as in A.D. 2010.
While it is rarely used today, the phrase was commonly used many years ago. One notable instance is in Article VII of the U.S. Constitution, which is dated to “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven,” or Sept. 17, 1787. It also appears in White House proclamations.
High school graduations for New Haven students are this Thursday.
Contact Abbe Smith at 203-789-5615.