Graduation, Special Needs

Georgia School Apologizes For Excluding Student With Disabilities At Graduation

The school district superintendent apologized to the student at a June board meeting.

Georgia school officials have apologized to a student with disabilities after excluding her from participating in her high school graduation.

Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia, held its annual commencement ceremony on May 25. However, while many families saw their graduates cross the stage, one mother found out that her daughter would sit out.

Linda Ramirez found out at the ceremony that the special education students would not receive their diplomas with everyone. Instead, they would walk the stage and exit before the official graduation began.

“They call the special needs students one by one [to] walk across the stage and exit out a left hallway, to exit outside behind the building,” explained Ramirez, whose daughter Ashlynn Rose Rich graduated from the Individualized Education Program (IEP) to People. “And by the time they were done, they were just starting the general ed kids commencement ceremony as far as issuing diplomas. I was very upset…I’m like, ‘Why did we even come?’”

She added, “Everybody that had a special needs child got up to go collect their kids,” Ramirez continues. ”And during this, the commencement ceremony is in full; it’s happening. So, our kids missed it all. They didn’t get the turn of the tassel. They didn’t get to see the opening speeches, and they didn’t get that big walkout.”

Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale apologized to Ramirez and her daughter in response to the incident. He claimed that the decision was “well-intentioned” despite the outcome.

“While I cannot say more about the experience of the Rich family at the Sprayberry ceremony, I can say this,” explained Ragsdale at a board meeting on June 13. “First, on behalf of the district, I apologize to Ashlynn and her family. It does not matter how well-intentioned it appears a decision was made; it should have been a parental decision.” 

Rich explained her thoughts on the experience to the board members. She shared that she felt “mistreated and discriminated against” for not being able to take part.

“I felt mistreated and discriminated against because I was not allowed to sit with my classmates. Many of my friends are regular students, and it made me sad that I couldn’t sit with them and experience graduation together.”

The school district also released a statement on the issue. It detailed that families of IEP students allegedly usually decide how to celebrate graduation.

“Some Cobb families choose a full graduation ceremony; some choose to protect their child from noise, stimuli, or attention in a variety of ways. Every child’s needs are discussed individually and confidentially, so that the specific needs of our special needs students are met,” detailed the statement. “This year, although initial reports indicated those choices were offered, we discovered they were not offered to one student at Sprayberry High School. Our expectation, and the parents’, was not fully met.”

While Rich and her mother accepted the apology, a district investigation into the incident is also underway.

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