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A new policy that charges parents to attend their children's graduation ceremony at Manatee High School is stirring controversy.
While every senior is now required to pay a $20 fee to participate in the event, the school is also charging a $200 "premium" seating price. The extra cost pays for an entire bench near the end zone of Hawkins Stadium, where the ceremony will be held May 31. All ten rows have been sold out.
"I think that's ridiculous. It should be free," said Jennifer Brantley, whose kids graduated from Manatee High School when graduation was still free of charge.
Mark Domer's kids also graduated from the school, and he said the costs adversely affect families with lower incomes.
"It's being discriminatory," Domer said. "It's just not fair."
The school's principal, Don Sauer, declined comment. But a Manatee County School District official said the high school was receiving less money to cover graduation ceremony costs than in years past, and the policy was a means to pay for the event.
"$200 is a lot of money for a preferred seating," said Mayu Fielding, whose son attends Manatee High. Fielding wondered whether the premium pricing will create division among families who plan to attend the ceremony. "Is my child more important than yours?" Fielding asked.
The district pointed out that other high schools in Manatee County already charge graduation fees, and the school would waive the $20 charge for students with financial need. But the $200 preferred price stands.
"I think it's because they're trying to make back the money supposedly that was lost somewhere and they can't find it," Brantley said. "I'm skeptical."