By Josh stipanovich
Brian Bragg was one of several disgruntled parents and family members trying to get into Boardman High School just before 2 p.m. Sunday for its commencement ceremony.
Bragg arrived at the high school at 1:30 p.m. and waited outside for his son’s girlfriend. When they made their way to the school’s doors about 10 minutes later, police already were shutting them, he said. They told him nobody else was getting in.
Police “wouldn’t respond to anybody,” he said.
Bragg pleaded to police, and after he realized his chances at getting in were slim, he looked for anyone he knew that would let him in.
He was unsuccessful.
His son, Sebastian Bragg, received his diploma Sunday. But Brian Bragg and several other parents — who arrived about the same time — were forced to watch the ceremony on a 10-by-10-foot screen in the school’s auditorium, he said.
“It’s not even the same. You couldn’t tell who anyone was,” he said. “Words don’t explain it.”
Lisondra Mendez was there with several family members, in hopes of watching her daughter, Yahsminn Santiago, receive her diploma.
When they arrived at 1:42 p.m., the doors already were locked, she said. Mendez said police told her there was nothing they could do.
Mendez called her daughter when she found out she wasn’t going to be able to get into the gymnasium. At 2:01 p.m., after the ceremony began, Santiago came looking for her mother and family outside.
Santiago wanted police to see her, Mendez said, in hopes that they would let them inside. When that failed, they all were barred from getting into the gymnasium, Mendez said.
“My daughter was bawling,” Mendez said.
Santiago was told she couldn’t walk the stage. Instead, she received her diploma after the ceremony ended.
“The Boardman police had no right to lock those doors,” Mendez said. “There’s nothing they can do to make this right.”
Tim Saxton, the school’s principal, sent letters to each of the parents before to the commencement, he said. In it, parents were told the doors wouldn’t be closed until 2 p.m.
“I go above and beyond to communicate that,” Saxton said. “It’s not a good thing, obviously, because everything we had published and sent out and communicated was 2 p.m. ... The doors should not have been shut at 1:45 p.m. Two o’clock is what I promised the people, and I feel terrible about that.”
Sgt. Rick Balog was at the commencement and said the doors are shut at 1:45 p.m. every year for setup purposes.
“There was a miscommunication of when the doors get locked and what was written on the ticket,” Balog said.
Jack Nichols, Boardman police chief, said police did exactly what’s been done in the past. Nichols was told to be ready for complaints, but he said that as of Monday afternoon, none had come in.
Mendez said she wishes police would have reached out to parents before the doors were locked.
“These kids are never going to get this back,” Mendez said.
Saxton said he has talked to every parent who called or came to the school Monday.
Bragg and Mendez visited Saxton on Monday morning and said Saxton apologized and explained that several tickets still were available when the doors closed at 1:45 p.m. Mendez also met with Saxton, who, she said, was “very apologetic.”
“We’re going to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future,” Saxton said. “We’re going to make sure we have a lot more communication lines, how it’s going to work.”