The family of a Highland High School special needs senior is fighting for their son's right to walk in this year's graduation ceremony.
Although Highland senior Kevyn Barton is not graduating this year and will continue in his special education program until he is 22 years old, he wants to don his cap and gown and participate in the ceremony with his friends.
"I won't be able to see my friends again because they will be in college," said the 18-year-old, who according to his dad is "mildly, mentally retarded" and is at a second-grade level in school.
However, Gilbert Unified School District 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, said district Superintendent Dave Allison.
"The present policy doesn't allow him to participate with his peers," Allison said. "The policy states that students must fulfill the graduation policy or their IEP (Individualized Education Plan) requirements" before they can participate in the graduation ceremony.
Kevyn's mom, stepmom, dad and a friend asked the school board Tuesday to change the special education student portion of the graduation ceremony policy. They want all students in Kevyn's position to get the chance to ceremonially walk with their peers in the graduation ceremony.
"What it comes down to is, what is right for special education students and what isn't?" said LRay Barton, Kevyn's dad. "The district makes so many other accommodations for special needs students, why should this be any different?"
Kevyn's family has been working with the district since November to try and get Kevyn the opportunity to walk. Since the superintendent denied their request, the next step was to appeal to the board.
Board members E.J. Anderson and Van Dunham asked the superintendent to put the issue on an upcoming board agenda. They also asked for more research to be done on the issue, including how many special education students within the past five years actually walked when they got their diploma at 22 years old.
Kevyn's mom, Teresa Moya, who has two other children in the district, said she has had nothing but positive experiences with the district, until now.
"To just be shut down like that was just quite a shock," Moya said. "Maybe the policy is broken and needs to be fixed."
Highland High senior Andrew LeBaron, who has been friends with Kevyn for three years, said although Kevyn will not be getting his diploma this year, the graduation ceremony is a "social" event he wants his friend to participate in.
"He should be able to walk. This is his senior year," LeBaron said. "I think the policy should change."