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Graduation Bill

Some Minnesota school districts have illegally charged their seniors for cap- and-gown fees, and it took one mother of a Woodbury High School student to discover it.

Mari Lowry said that in the beginning of the year she didn’t see charges for a cap and gown in the explanation of the costs for her daughter’s senior year.

So it came as a surprise when she was charged $50 for her daughter’s graduation costs—about $20 of which was for a cap and gown.

"I called Jostens [graduation suppliers] to check it, and they said that this information was correct and that I do not need to pay for it," Ms. Lowry said.

The Minnesota statute says: "Boards shall not charge certain fees in the following areas ... graduation caps, gowns, any specific form of dress necessary for any educational program."

After realizing she had been asked to pay for something that she could not be required to pay for, Ms. Lowry notified the superintendent’s office in the 15,800-student South Washington County district and the school board. District officials discovered she was correct, and refunded the fee to students who returned their caps and gowns, said Bill Walsh, the spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Education.

Apparently, the law has been overlooked by others as well.

"I spent a long time as a school superintendent, and I didn’t know about that law," said Charlie Kyte, the executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

About 20 years ago, caps and gowns were loaned for the ceremony by the schools, but at some point companies started supplying them, Mr. Kyte said. "It seems the schools passed the fees charged by those companies to the students."

The average district graduation fees are about $55, Mr. Walsh said. "Those include speaker costs, place rental, flowers, ... but the caps and gowns range between $15 to $20," he said.

Mr. Walsh said the department sent a memo to superintendents reminding them of the law. "It is one of those cases where the practice and the law run in two different levels," he said.

Districts that have charged for the caps and gowns have offered to refund those fees to the students. Students who want to keep them, however, must pay for them. "By next year," Mr. Kyte said, "every district will offer the option of not charging [for the cap and gown], or giving the children the option of keeping them."

—Tal Barak

Vol. 23, Issue 40, Page 31

Published in Print: June 16, 2004, as State Journal

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