Special education graduation exclusion: Cobb County Schools apologizes

Outrage and an apology at Thursday night's Cobb County School Board meeting.  

An angry mom demanded an apology after her daughter, who has Down syndrome, was excluded from her school's graduation ceremony.  

'It's a big step in her life, she has worked really hard," said Linda Ramirez.  

Linda Ramirez says her daughter, Ashlynn Rose Rich, was looking forward to her graduation from Sprayberry High School, but the graduation she experienced was not what she had expected. 

While the other students settled into their seats for the ceremony held at Kennesaw State University, Ashlynn Rose and other students from the special education class were sitting in a hallway alcove.  

"Ashlynn and her special needs peers did not proceed in with the 2024 general education class," said Ramirez.  

When the names of those in special education were called, Ramirez says they walked from the hallway, across the stage and back to the hallway, missing out on the rest of the ceremony. 

"The ceremony was just getting started, a ceremony she should have been fully included in," said Ramirez. 

The school district released a statement saying:  

"Every parent, in every Cobb school, chooses how their special needs child is celebrated. Although initial reports indicated those choices were offered to this parent, our expectation, and the parent’s, was not fully met." 

Ashlynn spoke before the school board on Thursday evening, telling them about how she felt about her graduation.  

"Being left out made me very upset. Graduation is a special moment and I wanted to share it with my friends like everyone else," said Ashlynn.  

"Her exclusion was not just an oversight, it was a significant and painful moment of discrimination," said Ramirez. 

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said an investigation was launched into how this happened. He also apologized.  

"On behalf of the district, I apologize to Ashlynn and her family," said Ragsdale.  

He also thanked Ashlynn for speaking to the board.  

"You have been successful in delivering your message, so every student who has an exceptionality will be able to take part, however their family chooses," said Ragsdale.  

Ragsdale says that, going forward, there will be a written agreement with the parents of special needs students regarding what they want for their child's graduation.