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Ask Judy: Help! My son was denied access to graduation ceremony

Dear Judy,

My son was told by his principal that he cannot attend his middle school graduation. Now I know that he has had problems but he has enough credits to graduate and he has a placement in a high school. So why can't he go to the graduation?

Distressed mother

Dear Distressed mother:

The Department of Education has a policy about excluding kids from graduation ceremonies. According to the DOE, a student has to "pose a real threat of violence or disruption to the event," or have a history of particularly bad conduct (they use the term "egregious") before he can be banned from the proceedings. A suspended student may be also be denied attendance at the ceremony. Likewise a student may be prohibited from attending the school prom for the same reasons.  But before prohibiting a student from attending, the school must specify to you which events led to this decision.

The DOE policy states that parents must be given proper notification and the opportunity to discuss the reasons that the school is taking such a drastic measure. It is good that the principal let your son know in advance of this punishment, but you should ask for a letter stating the events that led up to it.

Keep in mind that the principal has some flexibility in this decision and that is where you come in. If your son has improved his conduct, or there is no reason to expect him to be a threat, you should get some teachers to stand up for him with personal testimonies or letters. But there is no absolute requirement for "due process," so don't threaten to sue - work with the principal to get your desired result.

By the way, the school should publish a clear policy about graduation requirements and possible denial of attendance based on behavior. Look for it in the student handbook.

Below is a message sent by the chancellor to school principals  last month with guidelines about these prohibitions:

"You may prohibit a student from attending a prom or graduation ceremony when he or she poses a real threat of violence or disruption to the event. It may also be possible to bar a student from a prom or graduation when his or her conduct has been particularly egregious, and where the student has previously been advised in writing. For example, students who vandalized school buses have been excluded from their graduation ceremony where they previously had been put on notice that such misconduct could result in the exclusion. Students who are already on suspension at the time of the prom or graduation also may be prohibited from attending these events, but the exclusion must be proportionate to the infraction committed.

In considering whether to exclude students from such one-time events, you should consider whether the punishment would further your school's educational goals. As with all other disciplinary actions, adverse treatment may not be predicated upon generalizations or vague standards. For example, basing eligibility on "satisfactory attendance" or "good citizenship" is too vague. Instead, exclusion from events must arise from specific, identifiable incidents. "

Still have questions? You can call the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy at 212-374-2323

Good luck.


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