High schools charge senior students “mandatory” fees in order to graduate


As the school year comes to an end, students from high schools across the county have walked the stage to pick up their diplomas—but it might have cost them and their families a price to do so.

According to documents obtained by The Sentinel through the Maryland Public Information Act, the school system “requires” all seniors to pay a fee for a cap and gown, while schools also charge “optional” fees for events such as senior banquets, picnics and panoramas.

“Schools have a ‘basic’ package, which includes a cap and gown that are mandatory for graduation,” Shauna Battle, General Counsel for PGCPS, said. “There are no senior fees or dues for students who graduate from regional centers.”

Documents show the fees vary from school to school. At most schools the “mandatory” basic package, which includes just a cap and gown, costs $40, but at Eleanor Roosevelt it costs $45. At Surrattsville the cap and gown costs $70 while at Laurel and Oxon Hill it costs $50. At Parkdale the cap and gown costs $47 and at Largo it costs only $30. Northwestern Evening High School charges students $27.83.

According to the school system’s documents, each high school offers students the option to purchase packages in varying amounts and with different options.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School has a “deluxe” package featuring a class ring for $240. The package comes with 25 graduation announcements, a box of matching name cards, an ERHS senior shirt, a cap and gown package with a tassel and a class ring.

The “deluxe” package is Eleanor Roosevelt’s most expensive, and students may pay for it in two installments. Another package costs students $120 but does not include the class ring. In addition, yearbooks at Roosevelt cost $75 for a hardcover and $65 for a softcover. Students must also pay $40 for the class picnic, $25 for a graduation night celebration and $10 for senior portraits.

Meanwhile, at Bowie High School students are not offered any packages and instead must pay $50 to Jostens for their cap and gown.

Although some students can afford to pay graduation costs, it might not be so easy for others, said Julian Robinson, a parent of a senior at Central High School.

At Central, students can pay $40 for just the cap and gown, or pay for different packages. The “silver” package costs $80 and includes a tee shirt, “graduation fees” and a panoramic photo, while the most expensive “platinum” package costs $325 and includes 25 announcements, a yearbook and the end-of-year event.

“I’m not saying I can’t afford to pay for things. I can. But I do know folks who could barely buy the basic package,” Robinson said. “They managed to work things out, but still. It’s rough.”

Angela Smith, a parent of a senior at Bladensburg High School, said she has had to make tough choices for her child’s education experience. Smith does not want to pay the extra money, but she said she also wants her daughter to have the memories of finishing high school with her friends. She said she thinks it’s unfair the school system put her in the position to make choices between finances and allowing her child to have the best experience possible.

“I don’t like these fees or packages. I think they’re too much. I have to pay the bills, pay for prom and now pay for a picnic and other things. It’s tough. I’ve made sacrifices,” Smith said. “If you ask me, we shouldn’t have to pay for these things.”

At Bladensburg, a $125 package includes a tee shirt, hooded sweatshirt, panoramic photo and costs for “carnival/field day,” while a $400 package includes a yearbook, prom ticket and a ticket for Six Flags on graduation night.

Prince George’s County Public Schools officials did not respond to repeated requests for comments for this story.

Charly Carter, the Maryland director of Working Families, an organization dedicated to fighting for the values and needs of working households in Maryland, said some expenses are necessary for school and it is good to give children fun things to do before they graduate to make their experiences better.

However, Carter said, she can see a situation where some families are unable to pay for their children to attend events such as cookouts, trips or prom. Some families struggle to make ends meet, Carter said, and parents cannot always buy the best for their children.

“When you’re a family and you’re struggling financially, any unexpected expense is enough to destabilize your family,” Carter said. “I can understand where some families might be concerned about having to come up with that additional money.”

As a parent of a child who will one day be a senior, Carter said, she knows it is not easy to make decisions involving a child’s experience.

“You want your child to participate in all of the senior activities that year because those memories are what they hang on to,” Carter said. “Being realistic and saying ‘Can I really afford to take this money out of my budget?’ is tough. My heart just goes out to the parents who feel that.”

Steffanie Jackson, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Frederick Douglass High School, said that school allows students to decide “what they want their senior year to look like” during their freshmen year. The students are asked what activities they want to include in their senior year, if any at all, Jackson said. Students select the activities and the school staff lets them know what the costs are going to be.

Students are encouraged to participate in fundraising to offset the costs.

At Frederick Douglass, the $228 Eagle package includes the cap and gown, senior picnic, 25 name cards, 25 announcements, a panoramic photo, a tee shirt and other items. The $99 dollar Maroon package includes just the picnic and tee shirt, as well as the cap and gown. The cap and gown, individually, costs $40 and students can also pay separately for a $30 ticket to the picnic.

A flyer from the school notes that the cap and gown are “mandatory” to participate in graduation and also mentions that “senior dues are mandatory in order to participate in the senior picnic.”

“The money (students) contributes goes to their after-graduation experiences after they’ve met all of their criteria for graduating,” Jackson said. “The students can also offset that funding with fundraising. We encourage students to fund raise so that maybe they get a free prom ticket or they don’t pay senior fees. These are extra-curricular activities our students have that they agreed they wanted.”

Every person is aware of their particular financial situation, Jackson said, so if a family is in a position where a graduate cannot participate in a particular event at Frederick Douglass, then parents can contact the school system and discuss ways to help their children.

It is possible for students to be left out and get bullied, Jackson said, but if the family and their child advocate for their particular situation the school does its best to find a way to ensure the child is able to participate.

“We make a way. If we have to, we find a way. We find donors. There’s always a way to find for us to make sure that these children participate in, what we think, are important experiences at the end of their high school career,” Jackson said. “This is not about the affluent having access to things that our children who are struggling do not have. I can only speak for my school, but when we have children who are vocal about their needs we help them.”

via sentinel


Family Files $10M Lawsuit After 9-Year-Old Daughter Attacked on School Bus


A 9-year-old girl says she’s afraid to go back to school or ride the bus after she was attacked by a classmate as their bus left Highland Park Elementary School in Landover, Maryland.

Saraia Collins hasn’t returned to school since the beating May.

“She is scared to go back to school, and I’m not sure how it is that they compensate her for that,” attorney Brian McDaniel said. “She’s scared to have interaction with other students. I’m not sure how they compensate her for that.”

Wednesday, her family filed a $10 million lawsuit against Prince George’s County, the school system, the administration of her school and the bus driver.

“The bus driver continued to drive,” McDaniel said. “He did not stop. He did not make sure that Saraia was OK. In essence, he just allowed the attack to take place.”

Tierra Holland, Saraia’s mother, said the bullying was an ongoing issue previously reported to school administrators.

“It’s not about the money for us,” Holland said. “We are not suing for money. We’re worried about Prince George’s County Public Schools acknowledging bullying going on in her school.”

School and county officials said they could not comment on the pending litigation but said the driver is on leave.

Via NBC4


Prince George’s Baker gives up on raising property taxes 15 percent

imageCounty Executive Rushern Baker III

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – A proposed plan to help turnaround the Prince George’s County school system has been dramatically scaled back.

Through a spokesman, council members declined to comment on the revamped proposal in advance of Thursday’s vote. Before Wednesday, not a single council member had come out in support of the 15 percent tax increase.

Now, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is instead asking for $65 million to pay for improvements designed to make the struggling school system one of the top 10 in Maryland. Originally, Baker called for a 15 percent property tax increase to the tune of $133 million to pay for his plan. The new proposal is about half of the original amount, but would still likely require some form of a tax increase.

However, Prince George’s county is consistently in the top 5 spenders amongst large school districts in the country. Many of us don’t think the amount is the problem… the problem is what they are spending it on… and the other parts of the equation – i.e. quality of parenting, home life, value placed on education at home. Lack of transparency and accountability is destroying the county to the ground.

“$65 million is the minimum investment we can make that will move us forward and significantly improve our ranking in the state,” Baker said. “Any investment less than that will not move the needle.”

Baker had repeatedly said the original increase was necessary to improve the county school system. However, some school board members were skeptical about any tax hike.

“If you’re going to have a serious compromise that you want to benefit kids, you can not increase property taxes at all without having a conversation about accountability, transparency and performance metrics. Whether you go halfway or all the way, if you don’t talk about auditing you’re not helping kids,” Edward Burroughs, a Prince George’s County School Board member said.

In addition to scaling back funding, Baker is also suggesting any tax hike for schools should only be temporary. Instead, he’s proposing a tax hike should only last for five years until the MGM Casino and other development projects in the county are completed and begin producing revenue.

While Baker calls the revised plan a comprise, critics call it a last ditch effort in the face of certain defeat. His original plan had no chance of passing the town council, and Baker is running out of time to make good on his promise to make the county school system one of the top 10 in the state in five years.

one blogger asked Mr. Baker to his face where the money was going to go. (See below). However, Mr. Baker did not respond. The problem with politicians like Baker is that they look for the easy way out. Instead of doing an overhaul of education to fix the problems of waste and graft, they just raise taxes and leave the problems to fester. The voters in Maryland are tired of this lazy approach.

The county council will vote at 1 p.m. Thursday on the proposed plan, which council members opted not to comment on Wednesday.

wusa9 contributed to this story.



Carcinogenic Playgrounds.

Tell the EPA to ban artificial turf containing lead and other cancer-causing chemicals until it can be proven safe!

Take Action!


University of Washington soccer coach Amy Griffin had been coaching for twenty-seven years when she made a concerning discovery. Over the past decade and a half, she’s become aware of increasing numbers of soccer players diagnosed with cancer. Thirty-four of thirty-eight cases on her list are goal-keepers, and most of them have blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia.

After looking for a connection, Griffin realized that the artificial turf her players had been playing on and diving into — tire crumb turf — was composed of cancer-causing chemicals. The EPA has said there is insufficient evidence that it is safe for children to play on, so why are we exposing them to it?

Most of these artificial turf companies have completely failed to inform consumers that their products contain lead and other carcinogens, for which California’s Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is now suing several companies. Griffin and other environmental advocates point out that existing studies on the safety of artificial turf don’t account for what happens if children swallow the tire pieces, or get them in cuts and scrapes – both scenarios common with goal-keepers.

Tire crumb has been increasingly used across the country because it is cheaper to maintain than grass, but if we are exposing our kids to cancer-causing chemicals, it’s simply not worth the price.


NBC News: How Safe is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On? October 8, 2014


Teacher Won’t be Bullied by Alhambra (AZ) School Officials

Lisa Elliott, a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) and 18-year veteran teacher who has devoted her 18-year professional career to the Alhambra Elementary School District— a Title I school district (i.e., having at least 40% of the student population from low-income families) located in the Phoenix/Glendale area — expresses in this video how she refuses to be bullied by her district’s misuse of standardized test scores.

Approximately nine months ago she was asked to resign her teaching position by the district’s interim superintendent – Dr. Michael Rivera – due to her students’ low test scores for the 2013-2014 school year, and despite her students exceeding expectations on other indicators of learning and achievement. She “respectfully declined” submitting her resignation letter because, for a number of reasons, including that her “children are more than a test score.” Unfortunately, however, other excellent teachers in her district just left…



Transforming Education: How Children Learn


Like every other public institution in the United States, our education system is simultaneously under attack and flailing in its attempt to defend itself. Politicians and pundits jump into the fray as No Child Left Behind morphs into Race To The Top. Schools are forced to comply with high stakes testing in order to get funding. Budgets are cut to the bone and teachers, struggling to make ends meet, are forced to teach to tests that seem to be designed to ensure that many schools, teachers and children will fail. The vaunted Common Core, for example, that will replace the STAR tests in California and most other states in 2015, is not developmentally appropriate, particularly in the younger grades. It was not designed by teachers who know what children can actually do at different ages. When it was previewed this year in New York schools, the testers had a new problem to solve: what to do with tests that stressed children had vomited on. Really.

Public schools, once seen as the keystone of democracy and the agent of an informed and responsible citizenry, are now facing takeovers by for-profit charter schools that cut teacher salaries and spending per pupil while pocketing profit from federal funding. How did we come to such a pass? When I was growing up, California boasted the world’s best educational system. My four years at U.C. Berkeley were essentially free. With health care included, I paid the Regents $150 a year in student fees. I did not have to take standardized tests or honors courses to be admitted. U.C. accepted my application with a transcript of courses and GPA. My ability to attend this prestigious university was considered an earned right, supported by the citizens of California through their taxes.

A student entering UCB next year will pay $13,200 in tuition. If her parents are not wealthy, she will most probably be indentured for decades to a usurious student loan scam. According to a recent article in Education Week, California now ranks 49th among the states in per pupil spending. Last year at the school where I was Education Director, the administration decided to take a 5% cut in salary and our teachers gave up five days of instruction in order to maintain our bare bones program. This, in one of the richest states in the richest country in the world.

The reasons for this devolution are complex, reflecting the values of our late stage neoliberal free market economic system that seems unable to correct its trajectory towards catastrophe. That said, corporate influence in public education has been pernicious for many years. A passionately engaged English and Drama teacher, I was horrified in the mid 1980′s that my new local public school required teachers to be on the same page on the same day in the same text throughout the district. That a school district would have so little respect for its teachers to force them into a scripted straightjacket violated everything I understood about creativity and learning. The idea that teachers did not know how to teach and needed to be guided by “experts” had taken hold. Textbook companies and corporate testing “services” increasingly determined how and what should be “taught” to children. I am not surprised that schools with a history of such rigid curricular mandates are floundering.

>>> Read more Popular Resistance

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