Waukesha school district warns that students with outstanding fines can't walk at graduation

NOW: Waukesha school district warns that students with outstanding fines can’t walk at graduation

WAUKESHA COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Pay up or don't walk at graduation, that's the new warning from the Waukesha School District to seniors with outstanding fees.

Some parents say the district is punishing students for coming from low-income families.

This will be the first graduation where this policy is in effect. In years past, graduating seniors would still be allowed to walk at graduation even if they hadn't paid all of their fees. Now, that decision is being left up to the high school principals. 

According to the Waukesha School District, roughly 25% of seniors have past due fees, outline in letters. This year, the messages come with a warning. "Principals are authorized to deny students with outstanding fee balances from participating in graduation ceremonies."

A mother of a senior at Waukesha South says her family got one of the letters. "We had a balance due of over $500. So, during a layoff with my husband and the purchasing of a house, I'm a stay-at-home mom with one income so it got extremely hard."

That mom isn't alone. In fact, according to emails obtained by CBS 58 News, at Waukesha South alone more than 400 students have money owed. That's close to $40,000. The policy is also in place for Waukesha North and Waukesha West.

"It's class warfare. It's 100% class warfare." Mindy Pitchford learned about the situation and says she's been raising money for kids who can't pay off their debt on their own as well as helping families get waivers. She calls the new rule callous.

"They could have a huge bill for even one school year and so if that accrues, maybe a family has multiple kids or not in the position to keep up every single year," Pitchford said.

In a statement, the district says their policy is now similar to some other districts and, "We have eliminated all other course fees to significantly lessen the burden of school fees. It is our goal to work together with families so that each student can walk across the stage of graduation day."

Still, the family we talked to had course fees and says that the new policy pushes poorer children away from participating in sports or other activities.

"I was very proud of her and I don't feel like she should have been penalized for us struggling."

The district expects most of the past due fees to be paid ahead of graduation but some are worried about the students who fall through the cracks. Some of them are taking up small donations for students.

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