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Dayton schools to tweak graduation ceremonies after families shut out

Dayton Public Schools will make two changes to its graduation ceremonies next year, after some families weren’t able to see their students graduate this week, and district officials said there was an issue with falsified tickets.

More than 100 people were told they could not enter the Dayton Masonic Center on Thursday when they arrived for Ponitz Career Tech’s graduation, even though they had tickets. There were similar complaints Tuesday at Thurgood Marshall’s graduation ceremony, which was held at the school.

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District spokeswoman Marsha Bonhart said the Masonic Center reached its capacity sometime after the 5:30 p.m. start of Ponitz’s graduation. She said DPS security officers turned people away on instructions from Masonic Center staff. Masonic Center officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said Friday that DPS issued an appropriate number of tickets to each graduate based on the ratio of students to available seats. But she said given that facilities were overfilled, “obviously several people didn’t have authentic tickets.”

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“We will put a system in place to authenticate DPS-issued commencement tickets,” Lolli said of next year’s ceremonies. “That will prohibit seats being taken by people who do not have an authentic DPS-issued ticket.”

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Nicole Hailey, aunt of Ponitz grad Vanity Hailey, said she and other family members came to support Vanity, whose father was killed nine years ago. They drove up at 5:15, but after finding parking far away, they got to the doors at 5:36 p.m. and were told they couldn’t enter, despite having tickets.

“She graduated and we didn’t get to witness it. That’s a milestone you only do in your life once,” Hailey said. “In African-American culture and in Dayton in general, a lot of kids are not graduating, or are getting incarcerated, or we have the highest opioid addiction. Now we have something positive going on, and this happens.”

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Locations for each DPS school’s graduation are currently selected by the building principal. This year, Belmont, Thurgood and Meadowdale held their graduation ceremonies at the high schools, Ponitz and Stivers held theirs at the Masonic Center, while Dunbar and Dayton Business Technology graduated at the Convention Center. All of those facilities have different capacities.

But Lolli said beginning next year, the venues will be chosen by district leadership, with input from the principals.

High schools in and around Dayton hold graduation ceremonies at a wide variety of locations – from the Nutter Center, Dayton Convention Center and Memorial Hall, to their own gyms, or places like Trent Arena in Kettering.

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