Education Law

It's Graduation Day! But Not for Your Child?

Spring showers bring more than May flowers. With Spring comes graduation day for millions of students across the US. From grade school to high school to college, it's the biggest day of any student's educational career.

Unfortunately, it's not graduation day for everyone.

A Student's Tale

It happened in 2009, but the tale is timeless. Justin Denney, a senior at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish, Maine, was like any other high school senior. He was excited about graduating, and his parents and grandparents watched proudly as he walked to get his diploma. He didn't get it.

You see, as Justin walked across the stage toward school district Superintendent Suzanne Lukas, he bowed, pointed his finger toward his family, and blew a kiss to his Mom. In response, Lukas told Justin to return to his seat - without his diploma - because there was "no fooling around" during graduation.

Several other students didn't get diplomas either. Some, for example, were disciplined for tossing beach balls and rubber ducks just before diplomas started being handed out. By all accounts, however, Justin didn't participate in such antics - he merely bowed and blew a kiss.

No Graduation?

A student may in fact graduate, but may not get his diploma at the ceremony. For instance, Justin graduated, and he supposedly received his diploma in the mail. On the other hand, a student many not be permitted to participate in the ceremony at all. Of course, there are times when a student simply won't graduate.

There are all kinds of reasons why a student may be denied his diploma when the rest of his class gets theirs. For example:

  • As in the case of Justin Denney and other Bonny Eagle seniors, a student may denied his diploma for violating a "code of conduct" or other rules made especially to keep graduation ceremonies from becoming unruly
  • Having alcohol or drugs at the ceremony, or showing up at the ceremony under the influence of alcohol and drugs, usually gets the student escorted out of the ceremony without his diploma
  • Violating other school rules regarding conduct and behavior, such as fighting with other students and cheating. It's not uncommon for schools to prevent students from taking part in the graduation ceremony if such misconduct happens close to graduation day, or if the student's disciplinary records show a large number of detentions, suspensions, or other disciplinary actions
  • Students who owe money to the school for things like lunches, library fees, lost or destroyed textbooks and the like typically won't be permitted to participate in the ceremony
  • Students who don't have the minimum grade point average at the end of the school year aren't allowed to graduate, usually
  • Similarly, many schools deny graduation to any student with excessive and unexcused absences during the school year

Any one of these things can cause disappointment and embarrassment to students and parents alike.

School Rules

As a practical matter, schools have a lot of leeway when it comes to making and enforcing rules on student conduct and discipline. As long as the rules don't discriminate between students - like treating male and female students differently, for example - or violate some other basic right, the rules have to be followed.

They apply outside the school walls, too. The school can enforce them at any school-related event or function, such as graduation ceremonies.

Avoid the Hassle

As graduation day approaches, take some steps now to help make sure your student gets the diploma she worked so hard for:

  • Check with the school about any special rules of conduct for the graduation ceremony and discuss them with your child
  • If you have any doubts or questions, ask your child's teachers and school personnel about her grade point average and attendance records
  • Make sure you or the student don't owe the school any money for tuition, fees or other expenses
  • Parents should be on their best behavior, too. Excessive celebration and cheering at the ceremony may have a bad result. Try to refrain from using horns and whistles when your child receives her diploma

It's an exciting day for you and your child. It's a "once in a lifetime" day. Make it memorable.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • Can my school refuse to send my records to colleges I've applied to?
  • Can a school require female students to wear caps and gowns but not male students?
  • Is there any way to get disciplinary actions removed from my child's school records?
Have a school law question?
Get answers from local attorneys.
It's free and easy.
Ask a Lawyer

Get Professional Help

Find a School Law lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys

Talk to an attorney

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you