THE INVESTIGATORS: Parents demand refunds, explanation after school announces socially distant graduation plan

THE INVESTIGATORS: Some parents at Mentorship STEAM Academy upset about graduation plan; use of senior fees

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Parents of Mentorship STEAM Academy graduates are outraged as the school moves ahead with plans to host a socially distant graduation ceremony for what parents describe as one of the largest classes in the school’s history.

“We want to get what we paid for, that’s all we want,” said Alisha White, a parent of one of the graduates.

After shelling out $250 in senior fees for all 147 graduates this year, some parents tell WAFB they have hardly anything to show for it. If every senior paid their fees, at least $36,750 was collected from the graduating class.

A letter shared with the 9News Investigators shows exactly what parents and students were paying for, including everything from a graduation ceremony to a senior breakfast and more, but members of the Class of 2020 say all they got from the school was a mug and a yard sign. Aaliyah Abdul is one of the students who says they now want answers from administrators.

“It’s just being held. Like, why can’t we get it back?” Abdul asked. “That’s the biggest question everybody wants to know. What are y’all doing with our money?”

“They didn’t get the breakfast. They didn’t get the picnic. It was a lot of things they didn’t get. The only thing we received was the cap and gown, which we paid for out of our own pockets. That’s an additional cost,” White added. “They did hand off a mug and I guess that came from the $250, but other than that, I don’t know where the rest of those funds went.”

In a video posted on the Mentorship STEAM Academy Instagram page, the school has announced a socially distant graduation ceremony for Tuesday, June 9. The original plan was to have the event in the Raising Cane’s River Center, but due to the coronavirus, it’s now set to happen at the Helix Aviation Academy, a new school that has not opened yet and according to its website, is connected to Mentorship Academy.

EDITORS NOTE: Administrators for Mentorship STEAM Academy did not respond to WAFB’s request for information about the event but since our report aired it appears someone has removed the video announcing the planned graduation from the school’s Instagram account.

Candy Gobert, a parent of one of the graduates, tells WAFB she was disgusted when she saw the post and realized what the school was planning.

“When I saw that post and that video, it hurt me. It really hurt me,” Gobert said. “I think really and truly that none of the seniors should go inside of that building and I think they should protest.”

The students say the worst part is they will not graduate with their friends and will not get the true celebration they deserve, since graduates will only be allowed inside the ceremony in small groups. They say the school must do better, especially as more of the state reopens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Capital, Woodlawn, Baton Rouge High, even schools out of state in Texas, they’re having ceremonies outside or in a building, but they’re spaced out accordingly,” said graduate, Jardin Brock. “They know how to social distance and make sure everyone is still prepared.”

Parents say they did reach out to the school for answers, but claim that has gone nowhere.

“We’ve gotten nothing,” said White. “We’ve emailed and we’ve called, but no one answers the phone. No one returns our emails and we’ve been left out of the loop on everything.”

The 9News Investigators reached out to the school Tuesday evening (June 2), sending a pair of emails to the principal and the CEO of Mentorship STEAM Academy, explaining the concerns and requesting more information. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked if the school had plans to offer any refunds, but more than 24 hours later, neither of the administrators have responded.

Parents say they understand the challenges the coronavirus has presented, but tell WAFB the silence from the school’s leadership is a slap in the face on top of what has already been a difficult year.

“I understand the social distancing and I’m not trying to go against that at all. What I’m saying is that we want to make sure that our kids are celebrated,” said White.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked one graduate if she feels celebrated with the current plans.

“Not necessarily,” Brock answered. “I feel like it’s more of a downgrade than a celebration because everybody’s not there. It’s just yourself, then half of the administrators, and your four guests.”

With the clock ticking until their socially distant graduation day, some parents and students say they plan to protest next week’s event unless they get an explanation and money back in their pockets.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked one of the graduates if there’s anything the school could do to make the situation right.

“They could listen to what we’re saying and actually give us the graduation we paid for,” said Abdul.

Several parents and students have posted their frustrations in the comments section under the school’s post announcing the graduation ceremony, but it does not appear that the school has responded to any of the complaints at this time.

Click here to report a typo.

Copyright 2020 WAFB. All rights reserved.