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Banned From Graduation

Posted by Scott Barron on Jul 3, 2014 9:43:16 AM
Scott Barron

The graduation ban is one of the tools used by schools to enforce disciplinary action or academic quality. Whether to use this method of discipline is often a very difficult decision for school administrators because of the extreme emotions involved and the life-long impact. Why are some students banned from graduation?


Protecting the Tribe

The graduation ban is often used to protect the school population from threat or even embarrassment. School administrators in the U.S. may feel like they have more responsibility for student protection than is actually reflected in the law. Contrary to popular belief, schools (public and private) are not legally obligated to protect students from each other. For example, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed in 2011 that schools don't have the same constitutional duty to protect students like those institutions where people are involuntarily committed.

The Milton Hersey School in Hersey, PA, was recently faced with a decision about whether and how to intervene regarding a student with apparent emotional and mental issues. The decision was made earlier in the school year by the administration to require the female student in question to receive professional care elsewhere before returning to the school. Upon completion of this therapy, the student returned to the school but was deemed to not be ready to resume participation because of the same issues. Eventually she was banned from even attending the 8th grade graduation of her peers, most likely because the other students and families were uncomfortable and felt like she posed a genuine threat. Sadly, this student committed suicide shortly thereafter: Girl Banned from Graduation Kills Herself.

Situations like this are difficult for school leaders because they're forced to determine what is in the best interest of the students as well as in the best interest of the school. They don't want families to feel threatened, and sometimes the mob mentality of parents and students makes it extremely hard for inclusion of another with "issues." The voracious attacks (on social media and other personal communications) by adult parents against a young student are overwhelming and unethical.

Protecting the Image

End of the year activities are one of the primary causes of graduation-related punishments. Misbehavior on a senior trip, for example, has caused many to either not be allowed to "walk" at the graduation ceremony and sometimes not to be given a diploma permanently. This is the final act of "instruction" that a school can use to protect the brand/image of the institution, especially when such actions are known publicly.

Protecting the Rigor

For a student who is unable to complete the stated graduation requirements, the ultimate recourse by the school is to not allow the student to participate in the end of year ceremonies. Some will allow the student to walk, but only give an empty diploma cover until the delinquent credits are earned. It certainly makes sense that a school would withhold the credentials and perhaps the experience of graduation until all requirement are met, but this should not be a surprise for the student and his/her family in the spring semester.

What would you have done if you were the administrator at the Hersey School? Is the graduation ban suitable discipline?

Topics: Administration, Legal, Current Events, School Law

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