Over the past few months, Education Law Center (ELC) attorneys helped numerous parents and high school seniors resolve a variety of attempts by school districts across New Jersey to prevent students from graduating, force students to graduate prematurely, and deny participation in graduation ceremonies.
The cases involved students with disabilities, students with excused absences due to extended illnesses, and students in out-of-district placements, among others. These students were told by their school districts that they could not graduate or could not participate in graduation ceremonies, notwithstanding the fact that they had met, or were on track to meet, all the requirements for graduation. Such action by school districts is a clear violation of both federal and state education and anti-discrimination laws.
In one case, a student who missed part of a state-mandated exit exam due to medically-excused absences learned just before graduation that he would not be able to graduate or participate in graduation ceremonies with his classmates. With the help of an ELC attorney, the student negotiated with the school district to be allowed to complete missed work and to receive a diploma by the end of the summer. The student was also permitted to participate in graduation.
In other cases, school districts tried to force students to graduate over the objections of parents and students. Special education law entitles students with disabilities to remain in school through the end of the school year in which they turn 21, when warranted by the severity of the students’ disabilities. But in one situation a school district attempted to force a student with multiple disabilities to graduate at age 18, despite the fact that the student lacked the most basic independent living skills. The student was also not being afforded the opportunity to participate in graduation ceremonies with his peers. With legal assistance from ELC, the student’s parent was able to prevent the forced graduation, secure the student’s placement in a basic skills program with district support, and enable the student to participate in graduation.
“School districts should not be permitted to take advantage of situations where students and parents do not fully understand their legal rights, particularly when a student’s diploma is at stake,” said ELC attorney and Skadden Fellow Jenna L. Statfeld. “ELC was grateful to be able to help students receive the services they need and deserve and also reach and celebrate a major milestone – high school graduation.”
Education Law Center Press Contact:
Jenna L. Statfeld, Esq.
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications