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Graduation: A Privilege, a Right, or a Requirement?
May 22, 2018

In this installment of the Public Schools and Education blog, Kayleen Egan discusses participation in graduation ceremonies. 

With May coming to a close, schools around the state are gearing up for graduation ceremonies. Caps, gowns, pomp and circumstance are all right around the corner as excited students prepare to walk across the stage and accept diplomas marking the end of one phase of their educations.

Every graduation season, schools come to us with some common questions such as: Can a district exclude students from graduation ceremonies as a disciplinary measure?  And if a student does not participate in a graduation ceremony (perhaps by the student’s own choice), have they actually graduated?

The answer to these questions really boils down to this: graduation ceremonies themselves are exactly that, ceremonial, and do not carry any legal or educational significance.

Moreover, participation in graduation ceremonies is a privilege and not a right.  Since students have no legal right to participate in graduation ceremonies, boards of education have the authority to revoke a student’s privilege of participating in a graduation ceremony as a consequence of violating student discipline.

However, given the emotional significance of these ceremonies, school districts would be well advised to make clear that disciplinary infractions (for example, bringing alcohol to a prom) will result in the student’s forfeiture of the opportunity to participate in graduation ceremonies.

On the other side of the coin, students can choose not to participate in graduation ceremonies and still graduate.  As long as they meet the state and local graduation requirements, students are entitled to their high school diploma, as referenced in N.J.S.A. 18A:7C-4.

For more information and guidance on this topic, please contact the attorneys in Parker McCay’s Public Schools and Education Department.

The content of this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion. You should consult a lawyer concerning your specific situation and any specific legal question you may have.

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