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Couple asks N-N School Board to allow son to walk at graduation

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NORFOLK - Fighting back tears, Regina Fisher chronicled her son’s long, harrowing journey toward recently earning his general equivalency development test.

Ms. Fisher, along with her husband Steve, presented their son’s case to the Norwood-Norfolk Central School Board of Education this week, hoping they will allow him to walk along with the rest of his classmates in this June’s graduation.

School officials said that they will be discussing the issue in the upcoming weeks and months and, as of now, are unsure if their policies would allow Anthony to walk across the stage on June 28.

“... has had to work hard all of his life to overcome battles with autism, PTSD, bipolar, and ADHD. For years we actually home-schooled him because of this. But when we moved up here to New York, he came to me and asked if he could go into public schools,” Ms. Fisher said.

“He finished ninth grade with me that year and was supposed to enter 10th grade at Norwood-Norfolk that fall. But due to New York laws, he had not met the (required) hours for the ninth grade in their eyes. ... He agreed to stay in public schools and really wanted to do this despite the stumbling block.”

Ms. Fisher added her son then entered an Individual Education Program (IEP) in the school district, but he still had the ultimate goal of attending college and having a career.

Despite being short one credit of moving on to the 10th grade and allegedly experiencing bullying from other students and even a teacher, they told board members their son was persistent and eventually earned his GED.

“The bullying escalated no matter how many IEP meetings we went to. Long story short, the school failed him and he quit right at the end of that grade. He was just a few months short of completing ninth grade again,” Ms. Fisher explained.

“This past summer we checked into different programs for GED. He still wanted to continue to earn his GED. He still had his goals. Through some investigation I found out that he could still get it here at Norwood-Norfolk. This summer I met with (guidance counselor Kelly Hitchman) when I found out he could re-register through Norwood-Norfolk as a student to get his GED. We met and asked if he would get to walk if he earned it. She said yes,” Ms. Fisher said.

She added that during a Collaborative School Committee (CSC) meeting in the fall her son’s advocates from BOCES said they believed he was already ready to take his GED test. This was after just a couple of weeks of his participation in the St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES program.

“So he took his test and he waited and he waited. They had only been in class a few weeks and his attendance was recorded as a Norwood-Norfolk student. He is not just a BOCES student, he is a Norwood-Norfolk student,” she said.

“The certificate awarded to Anthony as a Norwood-Norfolk student is not even what everyone calls a GED. On the certificate, it says in black and white ‘High School Equivalency Diploma.’ He is so proud of this accomplishment. ... He has been accepted into a college for his hard work on getting his High School Equivalency. To get this, you have to get 2,250 points. He worked so hard and even with his Asperger’s autism he scored a 3,030.”

According to the mother’s research, the Learning Disabilities Association of America states, “The LDA believes that every person with learning disabilities can be successful at school, at work, in relationships, and in the community given the right opportunities.”

“He’s done the work. He just wants to walk across that stage. Whether they hand him a diploma or a blank piece of paper, he just wants to walk across that stage and feel that accomplishment,” Mr. Fisher added. “That’s all I’m asking. Make an exception in the kid’s life.”

NNCS Superintendent James M. Cruikshank explained that the board will have to review various policies and do some additional research before making its decision.

“In recent memory, other districts have pretty overwhelmingly (said no.) There are a couple that do (make an exception) however there are caveats with it. To graduate from (NNCS), and this is similar to most, you have to meet the minimum requirements for high school graduation set forth in the commissioner’s regulations 100.5. That has to do with number of credits, etc.,” Mr. Cruikshank said.

“We have a lot of fact finding to do on this policy and if there is to be any change in a policy then we would need two readings of that policy. So that would come, first reading in March, and then a second reading and final adoption if we made any changes.”

Board member Thomas W. Scott voiced his support for the board to consider allowing the teenager to walk at graduation.

“My niece’s son is quite autistic but is one of the brightest kids you’ll ever meet in your life. ... It seems to me that if things are as what (the Fishers) say, we’ve got to err on the side of the kid. That’s what we’re in business for is for kids, not necessarily for regulations all of the time,” Mr. Scott said. “Now you could say, ‘Well that cheapens everybody else’s,’ but I’m not so sure about that.”

Before concluding her presentation, Ms. Fisher left the board with one more thought to consider.

“Today, I am addressing you not only as the board, but as representatives of our community. Please give my son the right opportunity. I am just asking you today to discuss it and look upon your parts, and understand the disabilities and the obstacles my son has had to go over to reach the top of this mountain,” she said.

“For kids with disabilities, walking across that stage isn’t just a day they hand you a piece of paper. That is a mountain that he is at the top of, and he can look at his fellow students that he’s been going to school with and say ‘I did it.’ He didn’t give up on this school district. Don’t give up on him,” Ms. Fisher added.

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