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Board votes no to graduation of learning disabled GED student

NORTHUMBERLAND, Va. (WTVR) – He purchased a cap and gown and even paid his senior dues, but that stroll across the high school stage may not happen for one Northumberland county teenager.

Jeremy Blackwell is a 17-year-old student who completed requirements to earn his GED. He now wants to march along with the other seniors at his home school, Northumberland High.

His parents said last week their teen, who completed the GED program at a nearby technical school,  was given an information packet by a school worker. Shelia Blackwell said when they got the packet about graduation fees, they got excited and purchased his cap and gown right away. She said they even paid $50 for senior dues.

“They let him get his hopes up. Then to tell him that he can’t walk with the other students at his original high school, I was very upset,” said Blackwell.

Shelia and husband Harvey took their concerns to the Northumberland County School Board on Monday evening. They told CBS 6 they were ready to speak on their son’s behalf and ask if the board would consider letting him march. But Blackwell said she was told she could not publicly speak at the meeting about a student, or a personnel matter.

She said they left the meeting and the next day found out that the board took a vote on her son’s situation. They decided he would not be allowed to walk with other Northumberland High students.

“I am angry. They wouldn’t let us speak about our son at a public meeting, but they could vote on his case. It’s not right. I think this makes the board look foolish. I mean, my son has gone to school every day just like the other seniors. He just has learning disabilities and had to complete his GED. He still earned it,” said  Jeremy’s mother.

The teen said he worked hard to get through the GED program and was hoping he’d get to share it with his family coming in from out of state.  “I think even if you get your GED you should be able to march. I just think there should be equal opportunities for everyone,” added Jeremy

The family said they already sent invitations to relatives out of state and already spent quite a bit of money on a graduation party at their home.  Jeremy said walking across the stage means so much to him because it’s what his grandmother was hoping to see.

He told CBS 6 his grandmother suffers from lung cancer and even rearranged a doctor’s appointment to come to Virginia to see him graduate on June 16.

The county’s Assistant Superintendent told CBS 6 Jeremy can still participate in a technical center GED graduation ceremony.  To his family, that’s just not enough.

They’re hoping the board will have a change of heart before graduation. County school leaders said there is no clear cut policy on GED recipients being allowed to graduate with students that receive regular diplomas at their home schools.

Board Chairman Betty Christopher told CBS 6 the students at the Northern Neck Technical Center have their own graduation event with students from various schools in that area.

She said they’ve never faced a request like this before and said she’s open to having a dialogue about whether to allow this in the future. She said all of the schools that send kids to the technical center would have to agree on a policy. She said there has to be some consistency.

For now Jeremy’s family said they’ll still have a huge graduation party for him. Jeremy said if the board doesn’t change the decision, he will take part in the smaller GED ceremony.

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