Last Updated on October 28, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
What happens if a student is denied denied the right to walk at their commencement exercise (aka graduation ceremony)? Do students have a legal right to walk at graduation if they met all school graduation requirements?
Phone Call from School: the Student Won’t Be Allowed to Walk??
Picture this: a call comes in from the high school where a student is graduating. The parent is informed by school staff that although their child has earned their high school diploma, the student should not bother coming to the graduation ceremony itself. In fact, if the student shows up, they will be escorted out by police.
Adding to the issue is the fact that the student’s family usually hears about the exclusion from graduation ceremonies a mere week or two prior to the commencement exercise, a once in a lifetime event. Family are flying in to see the student graduate. Parties have been arranged. What do parents do now?
Needless to say, families in this situation are very unhappy.
Is There a Right to Walk at Graduation?
The bottom line is that if a student has met the academic requirements for graduation from a public high school, they DO have a legal right to a diploma from the institution they attended. For example, if they get those 220 units and met their class graduation requirements, they earn their diploma.
However, the “right” to walk and participate in a graduation ceremony is an entirely different matter as the ability to walk at the graduation ceremony is not a “right” at all. Walking at graduation is a privilege, similar to driving, and it can be taken away.
Graduation Ceremony Cannot Be Taken Away for Arbitrary and Capricious Reasons
However, a school, in any student commencement ceremony denial, cannot act in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
What is Arbitrary and Capricious?
Something arbitrary and capricious would generally be something at the whim or fancy of the school or district administration or that is not supported by “fair or substantial reason” (see Zuehlsdorf. v. Simi Valley, 2007 2nd Dist. Cal).
For example, if a student was denied the right to walk at graduation only because the Principal did not like the student, such denial could be arbitrary and capricious.
But, if the student was denied his commencement because he had 5 suspensions in his senior year and a school board policy says that 5 suspensions means no commencement exercise, that may not be arbitrary and capricious.
Examples of Commencement Denial Situations
Some examples may be illustrative of what could be arbitrary and capricious.
Example One: Policy Breached
A student is denied the ability to walk at an eighth grade graduation. However, it is discovered that the rights outlined in the school district graduation policy were denied to the student.
Per the school board policy, the student was supposed to receive advanced written notice of the basis for the graduation ceremony denial, had a right to respond prior to any denial, and also had an appeal right. The student was denied all of these rights.
To add insult to injury, other students who were in very similar situations to this student were being allowed to walk at graduation. This made the denial seem to be revengeful and student targeting, which is arguably ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS.
If these issues are raised, it is very possible the student could be able to walk at graduation as the denial appears arbitrary and capricious.
Example Two: Excessive Punishment for First Discipline Offense
In another situation, a high school student received her first suspension during her senior year, and was denied participation in graduation and other senior activities due to a heavy-handed school policy.
Parents can argue that the imposition of such as harsh penalty for the one and only suspension ever, is arbitrary and capricious.
If your child has been denied the right to walk at graduation- act fast! Check the school policies to see if they provide rights in the situation, and attack the decision as arbitrary and capricious if you can.
Michelle Ball is a Sacramento student rights attorney assisting with graduation, bullying, targeting and other student school problems from Modesto to Los Angeles, Irvine, Santa Barbara, Fort Bragg, San Jose and throughout California.
Originally published May 23, 2011
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.