A MATTER OF PRINCIPAL

THE MANUAL HIGH FRACAS BECOMES A FAMILY AFFAIR.

"That's not what I said," Transou responds. "I said that some of the black seniors told me that they didn't want their graduation represented by Kinshasa. I told her that some of the girls had told me that he'd better not mess up their graduation."

Three days before graduation, Ernest Jones was contacted by a school administrator. "He stated with all the sarcasm and resentment that an adult could muster that I would be allowed to speak at graduation," Ernest remembers.

Jones declined the offer--in part, he says, because of the short notice, in part because "the school administrators had gotten themselves into this mess and only wanted me to get them out of it."

School officials persisted in their requests until Jones's father finally called and told them to leave his son alone.

Meanwhile, Alfred Sayers was calling the media to alert them that a protest led by his son would be part of the graduation ceremonies.

Kinshasa says the speech he planned was not meant to be divisive or to incite violence. "Yes, I had some things to say about how Manual had failed me and failed others," acknowledges Kinshasa, a B student who says he had to personally fight Manual's policy of discouraging blacks from taking challenging courses that prepare them for college.

"I wanted to tell other young blacks--everyone actually--that despite the [failings of the school], to hold on to their dreams and hopes...like I did. Education is the key. You don't see kids with high school diplomas doing drive-by shootings. And that says something."

But Kinshasa never got the chance to say much of anything. A fight broke out as he reached the podium; before it was over his brother was on his way to jail and many of the graduates were in tears. "I messed up graduation and apologized to my classmates," Kinshasa says. "But half the kids who attend Denver Public Schools aren't graduating. Who's apologizing for messing up their graduation ceremonies?"

Among those angry with Kinshasa Sayers was Ernest Jones, who was caught by the cameras when the fight broke out, screaming at his mother to drop her sign. "But I agree with what she did and what Kinshasa did," he says. "Someone needed to speak up. I was just upset about the violence."

The two graduates have spoken since, and like the lawyers they both say they intend to become, have agreed to disagree on tactics while agreeing on the importance of the issue.

Ernest Jones's anger is now focused on Transou and her insistence that his indecisiveness caused the confrontation. "It was not an opportunity to speak," he says of her offer. "It was an attempt to get herself out of trouble."

"There's a lot of lying going on," Transou replies. "This is an adult issue with kids stuck in between. Now I'm the target, when I wasn't the target before."

"She's a real strange authoritarian figure," Margot Jones says of Transou, "and this is a bigger problem than what happened at a graduation ceremony. She's not being real truthful. Ernie has always had exemplary behavior--he's not Kinshasa--but she turned on Ern, too. She's unbending, and in this case, unthinking. She can't even say she's sorry."

Ernest Jones admits he drafted the letter with his mother's help but says it reflects his feelings. "I hate this scrutiny," he writes. "I am only 17 years old and it is very confusing and painful to me. We are all at risk as long as even a few of us are not permitted to fully enjoy the opportunities of the public education system."

Kinshasa Sayers, too, is tired of the controversy. "If you talk to Transou," he says, "tell her that I want to work with her to find solutions.

"But first I think we need to agree that there is a problem.

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