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Woodland Park family told special needs senior can't walk at graduation this year

Her IEP advocate said district violates senior activity participation
Posted at 5:40 PM, May 24, 2024

WOODLAND PARK — Woodland Park high school senior, Alea Francis, was told she couldn't walk at graduation this year.

"I was devastated," said Alea's mom, Karen. "This was her dream, her aspiration to receive a diploma with her class."

Karen said Alea has special needs and understands she doesn't have the credits to earn a diploma, but she deserves to be recognized among her peers.

"I think it's a violation of Alea as a person, just an innate desire to be accepted isn't too much to ask."

Karen hired an IEP advocate, who said not letting Alea walk violates her individual education program.

"It says she would be able to participate in all senior activities, I consider graduation ceremony a senior activity, but the district did not agree with that," said Shannon Vollaro.

School board member, David Rusterholtz, said Alea would be able to get a blank diploma and walk at graduation if she finished the graduation requirements this summer, but that is not the case.

"If we can't go through this door, let's go through a different door and make something special for you," Karen told Alea.

Some high school staff and about 30 seniors held a mini-graduation ceremony for Alea. Her family even made her a certificate.

"It means I graduated and I'm smart," said Alea.

Karen said Alea was home-schooled by a hired tutor for most of high school.

Vollaro argues Alea is just as much a part of the class as any other student. "My daughter is graduating in the same class and I don't think Alea participating in that ceremony would take away from what my daughter has achieved."

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