Special Education

Commencement Rule Questioned

By Christina A. Samuels — February 28, 2006 1 min read
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In the Mount Lebanon, Pa., school district, students have typically been allowed to take part in graduation exercises only when they have completed their studies and are leaving school.

But that means some special education students who plan to continue taking classes until age 21 have been left out of the ceremony staged for their peers.

To Cate Scott, 18, a senior at Mount Lebanon High School, it didn’t seem fair that her friend Meghan MacLeod, also 18, couldn’t take part in graduation. Ms. MacLeod, who has Asperger’s syndrome, won’t leave school until she is 21, as permitted under federal law.

Pennsylvania allows districts to decide which students can participate in graduation, and traditionally, Mount Lebanon has said that students can do so only when they actually leave school.

So Ms. Scott started a petition drive to persuade the 5,500-student district to change its policy and allow students with disabilities to attend the graduation with other students who are completing high school in four years.

“People are really shocked about this. They couldn’t believe it. They thought it was really unfair,” she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Mount Lebanon district was considering making such a change on its own. The state is also is considering a similar move that would allow students with disabilities to participate in graduation after four years, receiving a certificate of attendance instead of a diploma.

Cissy Bowman, the district’s spokeswoman, said in an interview last week that the board’s policy committee will hammer out the phrasing and bring it to the full board in an upcoming meeting, she said.

Pennsylvania Rep. Russell H. Fairchild, who represents an area about four hours east of Mount Lebanon, said he got interested in the situation when one of his constituents said her daughter in another district would not be allowed to graduate with her pals.

The bill was passed unanimously by the state House of Representatives, and the Senate is expected to take up the measure this month. Mr. Fairchild said he expects it to pass.

“These kids come through their school careers with their best buddies,” he said. “They want to be part of [graduation]. They want to participate.”

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A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2006 edition of Education Week

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