Although a final decision was not made Tuesday night, it looks like Highland High School special-needs senior Kevyn Barton will most likely get the chance to walk in this year’s graduation ceremony.
“I’m excited,” said the 18-year-old, who according to his dad is “mildly, mentally retarded” and is at a second-grade level in school.
Although Kevyn is not graduating this year and will continue in his special education program until he is 22, he wants to don his cap and gown and participate in the ceremony with the friends he’s known since kindergarten.
Kevyn’s family has been fighting for not only their son’s right to walk, but also for other special-needs students in similar circumstances.
The Gilbert Unified School District governing board members unanimously agreed Tuesday they wanted a revision to the current policy to allow the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) team, along with the student’s parents, to decide if a special-needs student should participate in the ceremony with their age-appropriate peers.
Kevyn’s dad, LRay Barton, said he is “happy” with the board’s decision.
“That’s what we asked the board to do, and it looks like they will allow him to walk,” Barton said. “I’m surprised it was a unanimous decision. We expected it to be split. This shows they are responding to the community.”
If a special-needs student is allowed to walk, that student would receive a certificate of attendance, and would then be allowed to continue on with any transition classes with the district.
However, board members stressed the student would only get one chance to walk in the ceremony, and parents would need to sign a contract agreeing with that.
Board member E.J. Anderson said graduation is a “once in a lifetime” experience, and she would “hate” to see parents of special-needs students decide between graduating with their peers, or continuing on with transition classes to get additional skills.
District administration will bring the revised policy back for a board vote at the next meeting on March 24, said board president Thad Stump.
“Unless there’s an earthquake, you will see a favorable outcome to this policy revision,” said Stump, addressing Kevyn’s family and friends in the audience. “Thanks for your perseverance.”
Kevyn’s family has been working with the district since November to try and get Kevyn the opportunity to walk. Since Superintendent Dave Allison denied their request, the next step was to appeal to the board.
Current district graduation policy says students cannot participate in a graduation ceremony unless they are actually graduating. Extenuating circumstances are only given for students with a terminal illness, Allison said.
However, the Barton family discovered some foreign exchange students have been allowed to walk for about 10 years without having met the graduation requirement. They argued special-needs students should also get the opportunity to experience this social graduation event.
Kevyn’s stepmother, Kari Anne Barton, said the district has served Kevyn well up to this point.
“This is a good district with a bad policy,” said Kari Anne Barton, who provided several other policies from other districts from throughout the country that allowed special-needs students to walk without receiving a diploma.
Teresa Moya, Kevyn’s mother, said she wants the district to “focus on what’s best for the individual student.”
“This is what’s best for Kevyn,” Moya said. “He deserves the opportunity to celebrate with his classmates. He will make new friends, but it won’t be the same friendships he has now.”
Many of Kevyn’s Highland High friends have also rallied for his cause.
The district has received a number of e-mails asking the board to allow Kevyn to walk. A Facebook page entitled “Let Kevyn Walk!” has more than 620 members, most of them Highland High School students, Kari Anne Barton said.
Highland High senior Andrew LeBaron, who has known Kevyn for three years, said he is “elated” the board considered the policy change.
“I’m glad we’re allowing the fairness in the district towards special-needs students because they really do deserve it,” Andrew said.