A presentation during an assembly for seniors at Greenville High School in South Carolina sparked controversy after a student snapped a picture of a slide showing that the school threatened to fine parents and family members $1,030 if they yelled during their child’s graduation.
“Since graduation is a dignified and solemn occasion, graduating seniors and their guests should behave appropriately,” the slide appeared to say in the photo obtained by the Greenville News. “Please ask your guests not to call out, cheer, whistle, or applaud during the reading of names and presentation of diplomas. The citation for family members yelling out is $1,030.”
While the slide show explicitly claimed the fine would be for family members “yelling out,” without specifying who would be doing the citing, the Greenville County School District said the presentation was only meant to show students that guests could be punished by police if they cause too much of a disturbance.
“In this particular PowerPoint, they were just letting students know that if guests cause enough of a fuss or ruckus, the charge would be a breach of peace and it could be up to a $1,000 fine,” Beth Brotherton, spokesperson for Greenville County Schools, tells PEOPLE. “There’s been no communication between students or their families that if they clap, they need to bring their checkbook.”
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She adds: “The fine was in reference to, if there were something that occurred in the crowd that would require police actions, like a disturbance or disorderly conduct or breach of peace, that would require police involvement, that’s the kind of fine you would be looking at. “
Brotherton says with 315 Greenville High students waiting to walk across the stage, excessive cheering can cause delays and is why the district asks parents to hold their applause until the end.
“Graduations are a fine balance between a celebration of individual students and a need to be respectful to an entire group of people,” she says. “If parents are cheering loudly and excessive for one child, it’s not fair to the person whose name is next.”
Greenville High School’s graduation will take place at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Greenville Police Department. Fortunately, the department says that despite what the PowerPoint presentation may or may not have implied, they won’t be handing out tickets for families who cheer or applaud on the big day.
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“While it’s true our police officers will be on hand to maintain peace and order at the county’s eight graduations at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, we will not be issuing citations to attendees for simply cheering, whistling, or applauding during the ceremonies,” Chief Ken Miller of the Greenville Police Department tells PEOPLE. “If someone’s behavior becomes especially disruptive or threatening, our officers will definitely intervene to ensure public safety.”
Miller says that the department understands that the school district is, overall, just trying to keep the focus on the graduates by minimizing audience disruptions.
Ironically, Brotherton tells PEOPLE the school district has never had a major problem with cheering, but thanks to social media highlighting the picture — it’s likely that cheering at graduation this year will be much different from before.
“It’s funny, they never had that much cheering in the past,” she says. “But we’re expecting a lot more cheering this year!”