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HILLSVILLE — Emily Booth’s daughter had to work a lot harder than most to reach the milestone of graduation from Carroll County High School.
Dealing with attention deficit disorder made the 13-year journey through public school a challenge, but she overcame it and was excited to finally receive her diploma on May 28.
The graduate crossed the stage and got the folder, but waited to open it at a celebration later that day, in front of her family and friends.
Imagine the shock when Booth’s daughter found a bill inside the folder instead of a diploma.
“My daughter cried for two days," she said.
So what happened?
A school policy states that students with outstanding debts at the end of the year must pay up before commencement, or they don’t receive a diploma.
Booth said her daughter’s bill arose from fund raising fees that had gone unpaid.
They had been told about the bills, but Booth said they were unaware that diplomas would be withheld.
“After all the cheering and exiting the stage they begin their new adventure with family and friends and finally get the chance to see the paper they had worked so hard for, only to realize there was no diploma, but a bill for $19 or $21 — or one was even for 50 cents,” Booth wrote to The Gazette. “As the tears streamed down her face after seeing the bill... I was angered because there is no way to give ‘her day’ back to her.”
Officials at Carroll County High School managed to ruin what should have been the happiest day of the graduate’s life, Booth said.
She knows of four other graduates who had the same experience. One, living with grandparents while his father is in Iraq, had instructional fees due.
“Can they not just notify the parent by phone or e-mail that there is an outstanding balance of 50 cents, or whatever the meager amount is, prior to the production of graduation?” Booth asked.
Don’t take the diploma away — drop a bill in the mail for the parents to pay, she wrote.
Booth worried about the feeling of disappointment and betrayal students who got bills may have felt. The high school needs to give graduates a feeling of “hope and appreciation” instead.
CCHS Principal Scott Watson told The Gazette that it has been the policy and practice of the school to give students plenty of reminders and opportunities to settle any outstanding balance before graduation.
If the balance remains unpaid, then the student gets reminded of the fees on the last day they are at the high school.
“That’s not a surprise to students, because they’re informed many, many times — that’s the protocol,” Watson said. “They’re instructed to check on their fees if there’s any question.”
It’s fair to students who have paid their bills to continue seeking payment from the others who have not, he said. There is an effort to be consistent in that regard.
The school also has a policy that says if a student has outstanding fees, they cannot buy a ticket to prom.
Many students have fees still due at the end of school, and they took the opportunity to pay those bills after being reminded by staff. Watson remembered seeing a line of students waiting for their chance to pay the bookkeeper.
The matter can still be settled, and students who got bills can still receive their diplomas.
“The ceremony signifies graduation,” Watson said. “That is not taken away from them. They have accomplished a great achievement.”