Ga. school district apologizes for excluding students with special needs from graduation

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Georgia school officials are apologizing for excluding students with special needs from participating in their graduation ceremony last month.

According to WSB-TV in Atlanta, Cobb County officials allowed the Sprayberry High School students, including Ashlynn Rose Rich, to walk across the stage to get their diplomas but forced them to sit in a hallway during the rest of the event.

Rich’s mother, Linda Ramirez, contacted the news station in late May to report what had happened.

“Her whole class was in the hallway. There were no special ed kids in with or mixed in with the typical peers,” Ramirez said.

Supporters of the teen and her family attended Thursday’s meeting of the Cobb County school board to speak out, WSB reported. Michael Garza said the superintendent and board members are focused on issues like property values and banning books instead of what’s best for students.

“The fact is, what happened at Sprayberry, and the unprofessional actions that followed, are the Cobb standard,” Garza said, according to the news station. “It stems from a leadership team that is focused on things other than ensuring all our students receive the education they deserve.”

Rich also spoke out for herself and her fellow students.

“I was very excited to graduate with my friends, but instead I was left in a hallway until it was my turn on stage,” Rich said. “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.”

Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale apologized to Rich and the other impacted students. According to WSB, he said the district normally has a consultation process with parents to ensure that students with special needs can participate in graduation while factoring in any sensitivities the students may have to noise or other issues.

The administration opened a probe into why the Sprayberry students were excluded, Ragsdale said. Because it is a personnel issue, he could not go into details of the investigation.

“Citizens and parents should be able to take for granted that all Cobb students at any school that have completed the requirements for graduation will have the same opportunity to celebrate with them, and their family will have the opportunity to celebrate with them,” the superintendent said. “Recognizing 12 years’ worth of learning and achievement on a graduation stage is one of the most celebrated American traditions. A recognition not only for a student’s school, school district and teachers, but their family.”

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