FAIR LAWN, N.J. — What some are calling an act of public humiliation others are saying is a procedural meeting for Fair Lawn High School seniors.
School administrators, however, remained impartial toward Wednesday's senior assembly during which students who owed lunch money or books were told they would not be able to graduate, according to several students.
Principal James Marcella declined to comment and after several voice messages and one email requesting a meeting or phone conversation, Superintendent Ernest Palestis gave the following statement to Daily Voice:
"Fair Lawn High School does not consider the financial status of a student, or student debt, as a factor in graduation or participation in the graduation ceremony."
Palestis said students are notified individually during the year that they have an obligation due, such as a book or team uniform.
"Teachers, coaches or [the] athletic director handles this," he said.
"Individual students are contacted if they owe lunch money and parents are informed by letter."
The seniors who owed money were named individually at the assembly, a practice that several Fair Lawn graduates and current students told the Daily Voice “has been procedure for years."
A high school student in Florida has offered to donate funds to students who might not be able to afford dues in lunch money, but Principal James Marcella seems to be holding back.
The practice, some feel, can lead to ridicule and even bullying.
Ahmed Kamel, whose name was called in 2010, said the meeting is "not as serious as some are making it seem.
"There was no shaming or ridiculing of anyone."
Kamel knew he owed a math book and received two or three notifications prior to the meeting reminding him to return it. He knew if he lost it, he'd have to pay.
"I kept brushing it off until they called me and a bunch of other students down to the auditorium who also owed money for books and in other cases, lunch accounts," he told Daily Voice.
"They just let us know directly that we had to return or pay for the book or we could not graduate which was fair."