Communications issue triggers diploma snafu

NAUGATUCK — Some Naugatuck High School graduates and their families were caught by surprise at last week’s graduation ceremony when instead of a diploma they received a note stating they owed detention hours.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said the practice of withholding diplomas from students who owe detention hours is not new. Students are allowed to walk at graduation, but receive a note saying how much time they owe and when they can make it up to get their diploma.

This year, though, there was a breakdown in communications. Some students and their parents had no knowledge before graduation of any time owed for detention. They were caught off guard at the ceremony, which two parents told the Board of Education last week ruined what should have been an otherwise special and memorable evening.

“Our district took that thunder away from all of us, as parents. Disgusting,” Julie Branco-Sampaio said at the board’s June 13 meeting.

Locke said the district acknowledges the communication issue and called the surprise of seeing the note instead of a diploma “regrettable.” She publicly apologized and said officials will evaluate the practice.

“We can’t go back in time. We try to teach our kids when you make mistakes, take responsibility, apologize and move forward. … I am sorry, the district is sorry, and like I said we are going to review this practice.”

Branco-Sampaio and parent Heather Crelan questioned how students could owe detention hours if they were allowed to participate in other senior activities, like prom, free of obligations.

In a message to students affected and their families, Naugatuck High Principal John Harris wrote the issue stemmed from students and their families not being made aware that they had received detention hours after they were told they were obligation-free leading up to the senior prom and senior picnic. Compounding the confusion, he wrote, is students were told again that they were obligation free when receiving their caps and gowns for graduation, and it wasn’t made clear that only financial obligations were being reviewed.

“These failings fall squarely on my shoulders,” he wrote. “From the bottom of my heart, please know how regretful I am that this has happened and how committed I am to making sure that no family experiences this again at Naugatuck High School.”

Following the board meeting, Harris said about three dozen students received notes instead of diplomas at graduation and he is going to review the procedure.

Locke said the district wants to hold students accountable, but it seems families were surprised and officials don’t want that to happen again.

“I think the issue here is that families were unaware,” she said. “So the night of graduation they opened the diploma and they saw [the note] and that’s never a good feeling. I think that’s what we need to own, the communication.”