When Kids Can’t Graduate: Stories of Rules Gone Bad


Many of us have recently shared joyous graduation ceremonies with family and friends. We celebrated years of countless hours of studying, late night reading, tutoring and sacrifices to see our children walking across the stage in their cap and gown to receive their diplomas and awards.

So it came as a great displeasure to me when I learned of educators who tried to stop students from enjoying a special day in their lives.

At an elementary school in La Monte, Missouri, school officials attempted to block an autistic student named Westin from participating in his graduation. His mother, Andrea Parkey, was told he wasn’t allowed because he was not in school that day due to a field trip he was not permitted to go on.

Parkey started videotaping the ceremony and insisted that her son be able to participate. Her persistence paid off and her video was widely viewed.

In the Clark County School District of Las Vegas, Tami Truax overheard other parents talking about kindergarten graduation ceremonies at the school her son, Bo, who has autism, attends. When she called the school inquiring about paperwork for the ceremony she was told that his class—all children with special needs—isn’t able to participate in the graduation ceremony. After Truax complained to school officials, her son’s class was able to take part after a call to the district by a local action news team.

It seems as if school officials decided for the families of Bo and Westin that their children’s participation in their graduation ceremonies was not important to them.

Nyree Holmes, a high school senior from Elk Grove, California was escorted out of his graduation ceremony by police officers after an altercation with a school official over his wearing an African kente cloth to his graduation. Holmes walked across stage to receive his diploma only to be met by authorities and led out of the arena. He was let back into the ceremony by an officer after his father asked if Holmes could receive his diploma.

To get into an altercation with a student a few steps from walking across the stage is overkill. Is it worth getting law enforcement involved and ruining students’ experiences?

High school valedictorian Andrew Jones, a scholar athlete with a 4.0 GPA who earned academic and athletic scholarships to Southeastern Louisiana University, was barred from his graduation by an interim principal due to facial hair. There is a rule on the books about high-school students in Tangipahoa Parish not being allowed to have facial hair.

However, there is photographic evidence of male students in recent years graduating with facial hair. Jones said that he attended several graduations this year where young men had facial hair. Jones sported a full beard and goatee throughout the year and was not punished. It seems that the facial hair of the three sport athlete (track, football and basketball) was good enough for sports, but not academic acknowledgement.

Jones was given an opportunity to cut the facial hair, but he didn’t cut it and I respect him for his decision.

The real issue here is about educators. Educators should not be repressive, confrontational and difficult. Rules should not be implemented willy nilly and without consistency. They should not be made for the purpose of excluding others. Educators should try to lift their students, instill creativity in them and set their young minds free.

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