Nearly 170 graduating students of P.S. 117 in Briarwood may not receive their caps and gowns and may miss out on senior events at the end of their elementary school experience because $30,000 is missing from the accounts of the school’s PTA, The Courier has learned.
The Department of Education (DOE) has launched a probe into the missing money, and the current PTA is barred from fundraising and any other financial dealings, officials said.
Parents learned earlier this year there may not be a senior dance, a school yearbook or graduation regalia because those items were all funded by the now-penniless parent teacher organization.
“I feel hurt, because it’s not right that our kids don’t get these things,” said Nicole Lopez, a parent from Jamaica whose son, Justice, is in the graduating class. “Other kids got them and they take them for granted, but it’s a memory and memories last forever.”
Graduating seniors will receive T-shirts and go on a senior trip, for which parents are required to pay
$65 per child to offset costs. They will also have a graduation ceremony with awards, but without wearing traditional garbs.
The school’s principal, Paula Cunningham, refused to comment on the situation and directed calls to the DOE. The DOE confirmed the audit, but wouldn’t answer further questions.
“This matter is currently under review internally, we are unable to provide additional information at this time due to the pendency of the ongoing investigation,” a DOE spokesman wrote in an email.
During a recent meeting at the school led by the new PTA leadership, Cunningham told parents that her hands are tied in the situation, even as parents suggested increasing senior dues to cover the nearly $6,000 needed to make the graduation special.
The dance is estimated to cost about $2,000, the yearbook could be about $1,650 and caps and gowns would be $13.50 per student, or more than $2,200 total, according to parents’ estimates.
“We as a building, as a school, are allowed to have one fundraiser for the entire year. That fundraiser was supposed to be for the entire school,” Cunningham said. “We don’t have funds that we can spend on caps and gowns. We don’t have funds that we can spend on a prom. We sent out letters explaining that the PTA paid for things that cost a lot of money.”
Parents and students are outraged and they feel their kids are being thrown under the “school” bus because not much is being done to remedy the situation.
“I think [the school is] being selfish and that they just want to do what they want, and they aren’t thinking of the kids,” Lopez said.
Dozens of parents have begun to hold weekly senior committee meetings, sacrificing time on busy weekday nights to figure out how raise the necessary money to create a yearbook and senior dance.
But time is against them: the “Moving Up Ceremony” is scheduled for June 25.
While parents are scrambling, kids are hoping they don’t lose out of their full graduation celebration after years of hard work.
“I want to be able to remember fifth grade,” Justice said, “because it’s the only year [in elementary school] that I’m actually going to be able to graduate.”
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