Report by Paula Antolini
April 15, 2018 1:57PM EDT
All photos in this article are Bethel Advocate file photos from the Bethel High School 2016 and 2017 Graduation Ceremonies. Click on each photo to view larger.
(Updated) Put On Your Thinking Caps: Stricter Rules Issued for the Bethel High School 2018 Graduation
(Scroll down for updated information.)
Bethel High School (BHS) administrators issued a letter on April 13, 2018 (read letter in full below) to parents and guardians with detailed information regarding the upcoming June 19, 2018, Bethel High School Graduation, only this year it contains stricter rules and warnings, most notably, “Students are not to paint, color, draw upon or deface their mortar boards (graduation caps).” No reason is given for this new rule (or old rule never enforced? How crazy is that then? Confusing.) Are administrators taking the fun out of graduation?
In past graduations students decorated the caps with various colorful fun themes using flowers, ribbon and glitter, etc., so this new rule is a mystery as to why it is in place.
For example, some past graduation cap designs had “Thank you Mom and Dad” and “My Future Looks Colorful” and “Eyes on the Stars, Feet on the Ground” or the name of their college on it, “Yale/AFROTC” or other designs, colorfully added to the mortar boards by the majority of students, who were proudly making a statement about their future. It has always been a fun part of the event, from what was observed, as smiling students showed off their creations to other students, teachers, administrators, family and friends, not to mention it was great for photos. (View some sample photos from the 2016 and 2017 BHS graduation ceremonies, below.)
The April 13th letter is sent from BHS Principal Christopher M. Troetti, Associate Principal Gary M. Lawlor and Assistant Principal Mari Lerz. They state “The graduation ceremony will be a traditional, formal commencement exercise that we believe reflects the values of our parents, our Board of Education and our educational community.” Have officials decided that the decorated caps somehow negatively reflect on the “formal” nature of the event, or on “values,” before the designs are even created? What is the worry?
Does banning a student from doing what many students have done before them, which is to put a fun message or image (or both) on graduation caps, affect their First Amendment rights to free speech?
In light of the recent “student voice” allowed by BHS during the the “advisory” period, regarding the March 14th BHS “ENOUGH” gun violence protest, and then the aftermath of students protesting outside the school and off campus, and receiving only an essay as punishment, instead of suspension as previously stated by Principal Troetti, it seems a rather odd place to suddenly issue strict rules about mortar board designs, of all things.
Other issues described in the letter are to be expected, such as dress code, drugs, alcohol, and perhaps even pranks. The letter also describes disciplinary measures for certain offenses. The letter reads, “We remind both parents and students that school rules are still in effect. Parents and students should be aware that any student who is suspected of using alcohol or drugs, or who behaves in an inappropriate manner during the ceremony will be escorted from the ceremony.”
A warning about pranks is heavily discussed. The letter reads, “Because of recent events in schools and the climate of our times, senior pranks are strictly forbidden. Pranks can be costly to the school, can be disruptive to the educational process and can be dangerous. As a result, we ask that you discourage your son/daughter from participating in any senior prank. Please understand any engagement in a prank or disruptive behavior will result in disciplinary action and possible exclusion from the graduation ceremony.” What “recent events in schools and the climate of our time” are they referring to? Could they be referring to that same March 14th protest that they previously allowed?
The administrators stated, “It is our wish to mark this milestone by providing the graduates, parents/guardians and guests with a dignified and memorable ceremony.” “Dignified and memorable” will unfortunately not include decorated caps this year.
We have sent a message to Mr. Troetti asking for a reason for the ban on decorated caps. We also asked about past records on pranks and other records of offenses. We are not asking for student names, but shouldn’t parents know what is going on in the school their child attends, and why a clamping down on stricter rules is suddenly happening?
It is not fair to parents or students to have no explanation or not know exactly what is going on in schools. Parents are dangerously out of the loop.
We will update this article when we receive Troetti’s response.
Read administrators’ letter below.
ADMINISTRATORS’ LETTER IS AS FOLLOWS (4-13-18):
Dear Parents/Guardians and Students:
Graduation is quickly approaching. The Bethel High School faculty and staff are looking forward to this special ceremony to be held at the O’Neill Center at the Westside Campus of Western Connecticut State University on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. The graduation ceremony will be a traditional, formal commencement exercise that we believe reflects the values of our parents, our Board of Education and our educational community. This letter contains the major details about the graduation so that you may plan for this important evening.
All seniors will receive ten (10) graduation tickets. These tickets can be picked up in the Library Learning Commons beginning on Friday, June 8, 2018. If necessary, additional tickets can be obtained at no charge from the Library. In order for seniors to receive tickets, all outstanding obligations (class dues, lost/damaged book fees, parking tickets, fines etc.) must be settled, including Service Learning hours and completion of the Capstone. If handicap access is needed, please contact the main office at (203) 794-8600 ext. 1405.
Seniors are to be at the O’Neill Center promptly at 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday June 19, 2018, for the rehearsal. Seniors should have lunch before they arrive. A concession stand will be open to seniors after the rehearsal. Guests will be admitted at 5:15 p.m. Each guest must present a graduation ticket upon entering.
Graduating students will wear graduation robes and faculty members will don full academic attire.
In keeping with a formal ceremony, graduating students are expected to dress appropriately. Students are expected to wear semi-formal attire; collared shirts, blouses, dress slacks, skirts, dresses, ties and appropriate shoes are the expected apparel. Jeans, shorts, t-shirts, sneakers, sandals or flip-flops are not to be worn. Students are not to paint, color, draw upon or deface their mortar boards (graduation caps).
We remind both parents and students that school rules are still in effect. Parents and students should be aware that any student who is suspected of using alcohol or drugs, or who behaves in an inappropriate manner during the ceremony will be escorted from the ceremony. Because of recent events in schools and the climate of our times, senior pranks are strictly forbidden. Pranks can be costly to the school, can be disruptive to the educational process and can be dangerous. As a result, we ask that you discourage your son/daughter from participating in any senior prank. Please understand any engagement in a prank or disruptive behavior will result in disciplinary action and possible exclusion from the graduation ceremony.
Graduation is the culmination of 12 years of academic study. It is an opportunity for students to celebrate their accomplishments with family and friends. It is also a time for students to embrace the future that awaits them. Therefore, it is our wish to mark this milestone by providing the graduates, parents/guardians and guests with a dignified and memorable ceremony.
We hope that this information is helpful to parents/guardians and students and we thank you in advance for your cooperation. Feel free to contact the main office at the high school if you have any further questions or concerns at (203) 794-8600.
Christopher M. Troetti, Principal
Gary M. Lawlor, Associate Principal
Mari Lerz, Assistant Principal
UPDATE April 16, 2018:
We sent the following email to Principal Christopher Troetti on 4-14-18:
Dear Mr. Troetti,
A letter was just issued to parents and guardians (in the 4-13-18 BHS newsletter) regarding the 2018 BHS Graduation details.
In the letter you stated “Students are not to paint, color, draw upon or deface their mortar boards (graduation caps).” No reason is given for this rule. Can you tell me the reason administrators (you, Lawlor and Lerz) made this new rule? Were there any guidelines or limitations for decorative themes on caps in past graduations that made this rule a necessity now? Were there any problems regarding this, in the past? Did you expect problems this year regarding the caps designs?
You also heavily discuss pranks. “Because of recent events in schools and the climate of our times, senior pranks are strictly forbidden.” What has happened in past years to have this rule mentioned now, with disciplinary measures too? Same questions for “any student who is suspected of using alcohol or drugs, or who behaves in an inappropriate manner.”
Would you please answer the questions above in a written statement, to this email address? I’d like to use it for my report. Thank you.
We received a phone call reply from Principal Christopher Troetti on Sunday night, he said he wanted to respond to our email (shown above). He said, “There are no new rules. We’ve sent the same letter out. Nothing’s changed.”
When questioned why there is this rule at all, if not enforced, “Students are not to paint, color, draw upon or deface their mortar boards (graduation caps),” and we also asked, “Doesn’t this make it bit confusing to everyone?” Troetti would only reply, “We’ve had this letter all along.”
Troetti then said, “We try to work with our kids all the time. We actually talk to them at their senior meeting … they ask questions about it all the time.” He said this was done in the BHS auditorium with all students.
We asked why he sends one letter to parents, stating graduation cap decorations are not allowed, then speaks to the students later on and tells them something different. He said, “We speak to the parents too if they contact us about it.” He did not discuss exactly what was told to the students in the auditorium or to the parents if they contact him.
Troetti did say they “confiscate caps” on graduation day, if necessary. He said, “Sometimes kids take it too far, so therefore that’s why we send what we send,” once again referring to the letter.
Troetti would not elaborate on what he meant by “take it too far.”
In fact, Troetti did not address any of the other topics we asked him about in the email, namely student pranks, alcohol, drugs, nor did he define what he meant by “because of recent events in schools and the climate of our times.”
“Sometimes things aren’t always black and white,” Troetti said, “We work with our kids all the time on graduation day and that’s how we deal with it.”
He would not define what he meant by “Sometimes things aren’t always black and white,” either, when asked.
He ended with, “I’m done with the conversation.”