SEBASTIAN — School officials alerted Sebastian River High School graduating seniors that they will be limited to eight tickets for next week's graduation.
But some students are irritated of the late notice as family and friends pour into the city to praise the achievements.
A large graduating class and safety were listed as reasons for the change on the school's website. Several students, however, believe the real reason is the publicity given to the arrest of 18-year-old graduating senior Kaitlyn Hunt, who was arrested and charged with two lewd and lascivious battery counts.
Hunt plans to attend the June 6 graduation, said her mother, Kelley Hunt Smith.
Hunt's trial is expected to begin in July after she turned down a plea deal over sexual engagement with a then-14-year-old female student. The arrest and subsequent actions became a national story.
"There's a rumor going around saying that there's people coming to protest that are against her ... so what I'm guessing is that's what the principal and the school district want to keep out," graduating senior Maria Solis, 18, said. "At the beginning of the school year, they know how many seniors they have, so they should have told us at the beginning of the school year that was the case."
Solis said she had planned to invite about 25 people to graduation. Students were alerted Wednesday, Solis said.
The school has about 440 graduating seniors, and so eight tickets per student would fill the school's 3,500-seat football stadium, Indian River County Schools Superintendent Fran Adams said in a statement. The school had ticket requirements from 2003 through 2009, she said. Vero Beach High School also has had ticket requirements in past years.
"The reason for the ticketing is to ensure that the families of graduating seniors have a seat," Adams said.
Graduating senior Maira Cisneros said she thinks the school's change has more to do with Hunt than with the number of students in the graduating class.
"Everyone assumed and is assuming that it's because of (the Hunt arrest) and because the media is going to be there and whatnot," Cisneros said.
Cisneros said she planned to invite 15 to 20 people.
"I don't think it's fair," Cisneros said. "Most of the seniors bought invitations and (some) invited more than 20 people."
Graduating students wanting more tickets can email Assistant Principal Jessica Keaton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"If extra tickets are available, we will do our best to accommodate your needs," Sebastian River Principal Todd Racine wrote on the school website. Racine asked that those with extra tickets give them back.
Messages left on Racine's cellphone and at his office were not immediately returned.
"As a measure of safety and to maintain a dignified ceremony, we are reinstating the ticket system used in years past for this year's graduation and for future graduations," he wrote on the school website.
Cisneros said a lot of seniors are asking for more than eight tickets. Cisneros said she plans to ask for additional tickets through the school, but had not done so as of Thursday morning.
Solis said she wouldn't have a problem with the policy if it had been instituted earlier.
"But a week before graduation, you want to tell us after we've had several class meetings in the auditorium and everything like that," Solis said. "I would have been fine with it if they had told us earlier. It just makes it seem like if nothing would have happened than I wonder if it still would have been a public graduation."
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.