KBS Reference Desk: Participation in Graduation Ceremonies

Q:        Senior pranks have gotten out of control over the past couple of years, so our high school principal is wanting to meet with seniors to warn them that if they commit any Code of Conduct violation in the last weeks of school, they will be banned from participation in graduation. Is the principal OK to do this?

 A:        Yes. Texas courts (and likely your SCOC) recognize that participation in graduation ceremonies is not a constitutionally protected right and can be limited based on violations of behavioral expectations.

Your district’s policy at FM (LOCAL) likely entitles a student to participate in commencement ceremonies when “all state and local graduation requirements have been met.” Most student codes of conduct and/or student handbooks contain these “local” requirements and explicitly provide that a student’s privilege to participate in commencement ceremonies can be limited based on violations of the SCOC. This common provision tracks both federal and state case law which has routinely upheld a school district’s authority to limit a student’s participation in graduation ceremonies for behavioral violations. Courts recognize that “while high school graduation may be an important occasion in a student’s academic career participation in such a school function does not rise to a protected constitutional property interest.”

Given the emotional significance of these ceremonies, school districts are well advised to make clear to students as well as senior parents that disciplinary infractions (e.g. bringing alcohol to prom, etc.) will result in the student’s forfeiture of the opportunity to participate in graduation ceremonies. In the event your Student Code of Conduct or Handbook does not provide explicit language limiting participation in graduation exercises resulting from behavioral infractions, a senior contract signed by both the student and the parent articulating expectations and consequences can be just as effective.

For assistance with preparation of a senior contract or for additional questions related to graduation ceremonies, please contact your local school district attorney.

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