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Schools denying kids of diplomas over petty stuff

This year, graduation has become a battleground for some school officials and students. With schools tightening restrictions on who gets to walk, seniors are fighting for their rights in the last hours of their high school careers.

Take 17-year-old Chelsey Ramer. Her private school, Escambia Academy, is holding the Alabama grad's diploma and transcripts until she pays a $1,000 fine—all because she hung a lone eagle feather alongside her cap’s tassel during her May 23 commencement ceremony. 

Ramer, a member of the Poarch Creak Band of Indians, told Indian Country Today Media that the feather was an important spiritual and cultural symbol of pride, and that she’d decided to wear it even after being warned not to by her then-headmaster, Betty Warren (who has since been replaced, though it’s unclear whether that was related to this incident). Escambia’s dress code prohibits “extraneous items during graduation exercises unless approved by the administration.” 

But, Ramer said after the incident, “it was worth every penny of the thousand dollars. This is what I’ve been waiting on, and I feel like I have a right to wear it.” To the local WPMI-TV, she added, the situation felt like “discrimination.” 

In Tennessee, honors student Austin Mendoza was banned from his graduation ceremony after he missed a mandatory rehearsal because he had to go to work to help pay for college. 

Texas straight-A senior Lauren Green, meanwhile, has been barred from taking part in her upcoming June 7 ceremony for allegedly drinking at her prom; she claimed the accusation wasn’t true and filed a lawsuit against the school, which was dismissed. 

And in New Mexico, a transgender student was essentially pushed out of his commencement ceremony by being told he had to wear a white robe, for girls, instead of a black robe, for boys, at the private St. Pius X school. As a result, the student, Damian Garcia, chose to skip  the event. “I’m fully respecting this and myself by not walking and/or attending the ceremony at all,” he said in a Facebook post. 

“When it comes to students expressing their First Amendment rights, disciplining students by not allowing them to graduate is unacceptable,” Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel for the ACLU, told Yahoo! Shine, adding that his office has seen an uptick in aggressive discipline in schools lately. “Not only is that punishment disproportionate to the crime, but the schools are missing out on an opportunity to teach students the value of freedom of expression.” 

When it comes to freedom of expression cases in public schools, Rottman explained, students are usually ruled against if their speech is really disruptive, is particularly offensive or crude, or is presented as if the student’s expression is representative of the school. Cases in private schools are “way more complicated,” though, he noted.

Having strict policies is a trend that’s been building for a while, though, as 2012 also brought a rash of pushed-out graduates—including Justin Denney, in Maine, whose superintendent sent him back to his seat with no diploma after he impulsively bowed and blew a kiss to his family. "There was no misbehavior. Showboating is not misbehavior," his mother, Mary Denney, had told WMTV News 8. "A bow, a kiss to your mom is not misbehavior. There was no need of my son not getting his diploma." 

Also last year, in Cincinnati, high school senior Anthony Cornist was denied a diploma after his family’s “excessive” cheers apparently disrupted the graduation ceremony at Mt. Healthy High.  "I will be holding your diploma in the main office," read a letter from principal Marlon Styles, Jr., "due to the excessivecheering your guests displayed during the roll call." He then demanded 20 hours of community service from Cornist, who told the news station, “I did nothing wrong except walk across the stage.” 

And then there was Kaitlin Nootbaar, the valedictorian of Oklahoma’s Prague High School, who dared include the word “hell” in her speech. As a result, the school held back her diploma and demanded an apology. “She earned that diploma. She completed all the state curriculum,” her father, David Nootbaar toldKFOR-TV news. “In four years she has never made a B. She got straight A’s and had a 4.0 the whole way through.”

Attorney Jason Bach, whose Education Litigation Group represents students in Las Vegas, Chicago and Austin, attributes this sort of zero-tolerance discipline, which has been increasing in recent years, to "institutional arrogance." Creating rules without thinking through how they will apply to individual situations, he told Shine, provides an easy out for administrators. "It's convenient for the schools," he said, who "won't have to make judgment calls if they have a rule they can apply brainlessly." 

Do you think these are justified and the kids shouldn't get their diplomas or do think schools are taking this shit to far?


Asked by LostSoul88 at 10:05 AM on Jun. 5, 2013 in Politics & Current Events

Level 40 (119,496 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (14)
  • There are rules/laws for a reason. I may not agree with all of them but I have to follow them anyway or take the punishment that goes along with breaking the rule/law. I think it's preparation for real life. Answer by missanc

    ^^  In a nutshell.  

    I however don't agree with the $1,000 fine or holding diplomas after graduation.  Those things have been earned.


    Answer by QuinnMae at 10:48 AM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • Not sure why this is written as if it's new, schools have always had stupid reasons to withhold diplomas. I graduated over 20 years ago, and we could have ours held for everything from library fines to throwing your cap at the ceremony.

    Answer by NotPanicking at 10:16 AM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • I think it's all ridiculous. It's also an excellent example of why I've chosen to homeschool. I want my kids to realize they have the right to free speech and free expression, and to use it. And I definitely don't want them to work hard through all of school only to be denied the results of that hard work over something stupid and insignificant and maybe not even their own fault (as in the example of the kid who was denied because his family chose to cheer).

    When I was a senior, I went to school in shorts 1/4 inch too short, and the school refused to let me leave to go change because they "had to speak to my parents" - even though I told them that my parents were unreachable at work. I wasn't allowed to go to class, or sit in the office, or go home. Not knowing what else to do, I was going to go sit on the trunk of my car. The dean called out "You're suspended!" so I figured, I'd leave. cont'

    Answer by wendythewriter at 10:22 AM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • The diploma is ceremonial. Legally, if a college requested the transcript, it would show as graduated. As for the $1000 fine, that should go to a judge, who undoubtedly would decide against the school unless it's clearly written in their handbook that there's a $1000 fine for breaking rules.

    Answer by NotPanicking at 12:04 PM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • When my mom came with me to the school later after I told her what happened, the dean told her I was suspended for leaving. My mom gave her this confused look and said, "You told her she was suspended when she was 200 feet from her car, and if she was suspended for leaving, how would she even know that?" The dean sputtered and then came out with some crappy excuse that I'd lied to my mom. I ended up convincing my parents to let me withdraw and go to a self paced school to graduate. I graduated 7 months early and with a very high GPA.

    These schools will look for any ridiculous excuse to deny diplomas, suspend or otherwise punish students. And then they wonder why parents and students have no respect and don't trust what the schools say.

    Answer by wendythewriter at 10:26 AM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • There are rules/laws for a reason. I may not agree with all of them but I have to follow them anyway or take the punishment that goes along with breaking the rule/law. I think it's preparation for real life.

    Answer by missanc at 10:41 AM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • If our students owe lunch money, library fines or have not returned their laptops to the school, they can not get their diploma or final report card. I can see that laptops are very expensive, but owing 30 cents for a library book is a little ridiculous.

    Answer by PartyGalAnne at 12:30 PM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • My niece was allowed to graduate but could not attend the ceremony because she was 8 mths pregnant. They said it was sending a mixed message to the other students. Her diploma was mailed to her instead.

    Answer by AnonNdrag at 12:56 PM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • I completely understand the kids, I was not allowed to be at graduation and had my diploma mailed to me because I didn't return my parking pass, my car was stolen a week before graduation, I paid a fine for not retuning it. I was still not allowed to walk with my class. It was ridiculous.

    Answer by leksismommy at 2:21 PM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • Thirty-some years ago, my cousin's husband was nearly denied the right to walk with his class because of a prank he pulled at school the week before he graduated. Nobody got hurt, there was no damage done, and I felt it was ridiculous that the recognition for all those years of being a good student and working hard might have been taken away from him for a silly teenage boy practical joke. The principal reconsidered in the end.

    And AnonnDrag, I think it's insane that your pregnant niece didn't get to walk with her class! She was sending a message to the other students--that she'd finished school in difficult circumstances, that she'd persevered, that if she could stick to her goals when the dds were against her then maybe others could as well ...

    Answer by Ballad at 2:49 PM on Jun. 5, 2013