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Letters and Notes that made the difference!

Graduation for Students with Disabilities
in Pennsylvania
 It's official! As of May 1, 2006 HB 1618 is now a law!

You made a difference! You called, wrote, faxed and emailed your legislators and asked them to support the rights of students with disabilities to participate in graduation ceremonies after attending four years of high school, while continuing their eligibility for educational services after high school. Ashley's Law HB 1618 was introduced on May 25, 2005 by Representative Fairchild makes this practice fair and consistent across the state for all students.

Even though the state embraced a policy that enabled students with disabilities to participate in graduation and still continue with eligible services, it remained the decision of the local school boards. Depending on where a student lived in PA, it could determine if after an entire school life experience with a class, including four years in high school, they could be denied the opportunity to celebrate with the peers from their class. It does no harm to anyone for the student with a disability to participate in their graduation ceremony, but it does do great harm to deny them the opportunity. Now it's the law!

This issue was brought to the forefront by Mrs. Debra Brubaker, a parent who fought for her daughter Ashley's right to participate with her peers in graduation as they left high school. The school board initially was prohibiting Ashley from participating in the graduation ceremony, until Mrs. Brubaker and others went into action!

View the Bill! Now the Law!

Key Points

  •   January 22, 2005 The Governor of Illinois signed "Brittany's Law"
    • requiring school districts operating high schools to allow children with disabilities who have completed four years of high school, but who will continue to receive special education, related services, vocational training, or transition services in accordance with their IEPs, to participate in the commencement ceremonies with their classmates.

  •   May 25, 2005 PA Representative Russell Fairchild  introduced a bill called "Ashley's Law"
    • June 3, 2005  the Bill is referred to Committee on Education
    • House members who have signed on as of June 3rd: Fairchild, Pallone, Fleagle, Phillips, Belfanti, Benninghoff, Boyd, Caltagirone, Cappelli, Cprnell, Creighton, Dally, J. Evans, Fabrizio, Frankel, Geist, George, Gergely, Harhai, Harris, Hennessey, Hershey, Killion, Leach, Mann, Markosek, O'Neill, Pickett, Preston, Quigley, Roebuck, Staback, T. Stevenson, Sturla, Tangretti, E. Z. Taylor, Thomas, Tigue, True, Wojnaroski, Youngblood, Yudichak & Kauffman

  •   Jim Buckheit, Executive Director, PA State Board of Education,
    • “school districts may include in their average daily membership count PERMIT students with disabilities identified under Chapter 14 (relating to special education program and services) that choose to participate in graduation ceremonies with their graduating class and continue to receive education services but are not awarded a diploma. Even though they will not be awarded a diploma and will continue to receive educational services under Chapter 14. The participation of such students in graduation ceremonies shall not preclude the school district from counting those students in its membership for subsidy purposes.”


TO:                 Members of the PA House of Representatives

FROM:           Rep. Russ Fairchild

DATE:            May 3, 2005

 RE:                  Proposed legislation --Special education student participation in graduation ceremonies.

Recently I was contacted by a constituent who brought to my attention the passage of a law in Illinois that permits special education students who have completed four (4) years of high school to participate in graduation exercises with their classmates, although they still have additional classes or instruction in special education, transition learning, transition services, or related services to complete.   This is not intended to replace the completion of academic requirements or attainment of academic standards.  It is intended to require districts to have a policy allowing participation in graduation exercises by those students who have completed the four years of coursework in high school.  In the near future I plan to introduce legislation to effect the same policy change here in Pennsylvania. 

 There are too many special needs students who are stigmatized by the fact that they are not considered part of the graduating class, despite completion of their four years of high school.  Currently, some school districts permit special needs students to participate in the exercises, while others do not.  It is time for a consistent policy throughout the Commonwealth.  This legislation will standardize the practice for special needs seniors across Pennsylvania. 

 If you wish to join me in sponsoring this legislation, please contact my office at

(717) 787-3443.

Similar Headlines from Chicago

Story from the Chicago Tribune. Congratulations to Brittany and her Mom Kim!
On January 21st, Governor Blagojevich signed Brittany's Law!

Law OKs diplomas for the disabled

Published January 22, 2005

LA GRANGE -- Brittany's Law, a bill that allows disabled students to participate in high-school graduation and still have access to state-guaranteed services, was signed into law Friday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The law was enacted on the heels of a Tribune report in May about Brittany Booth, 18, a Lyons Township High School student with Down syndrome.

Officials at the La Grange school initially told her that accepting a diploma would signify the end of her schooling and therefore she would forfeit the right to work-training services guaranteed to disabled students through the age of 21.

Illinois State Board of Education officials previously recommended that schools give students certificates of completion instead of a diploma at graduation. But Lyons Township officials refused, saying they didn't want to treat disabled students differently.

That changed after state legislators drafted the law in June.

Brittany's Law Passes Senate

House Bill 757, called "Brittany's Law", passed the Illinois Senate Thursday, November 18th by a vote of 59-0. The bill now moves to the House. House Bill 757 would require school districts that operate high schools to allow children with disabilities who have completed 4 years of high school, but who will continue to receive special education, related services, vocational training or transition services in accordance with their IEPs, to participate in the commencement ceremonies with their classmates. The bill addresses a problem that has arisen occasionally where school officials have denied students with disabilities the opportunity to participate in graduation ceremonies with their age peers. Since there is currently no State policy on this issue, it is left to the discretion of local school boards and adminstrators to determine whether to allow the student to ! participate.

Brittany, a young woman from the Chicago suburbs, was denied that opportunity last Spring, but eventually was allowed to participate due to the intervention of State Senator Christine Radogno(R-Lemont) and Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Senator Radogno is the chief sponsor of HB 757 in the Senate.

(Portion of P.A. 93-1079 that constitutes Brittany's Law)

(105 ILCS 5/14-16 new)

Sec. 14-16. Participation in graduation ceremony.

(a) This Section may be referred to as Brittany's Law. The General Assembly finds the following:

 (1) Each year, school districts across this State celebrate their students' accomplishments through graduation ceremonies at which high school diplomas are bestowed upon students who have completed their high school requirements.

 (2) There are children with disabilities in this State who have finished 4 years of high school, but whose individualized education programs prescribe the continuation of special education, transition planning, transition services, or related services beyond the completion of 4 years of high school.

 (3) It is well-established that the awarding of a high school diploma to and the high school graduation of a child with a disability is tantamount to the termination of eligibility for special education and related services for the student under applicable federal law.

 (4) Many children with disabilities who will continue their public education in accordance with their individualized education programs after finishing 4 years of high school wish to celebrate their accomplishments by participating in a graduation ceremony with their classmates.

 (5) The opportunity for classmates with disabilities and those without disabilities to celebrate their accomplishments together only occurs once, and the opportunity to celebrate the receipt of a diploma several years after one's classmates have graduated diminishes the experience for students whose age peers have left high school several years earlier. 

(b) Beginning March 1, 2005, each school district that operates a high school must have a policy and procedures that allow a child with a disability who will have completed 4 years of high school at the end of a school year to participate in the graduation ceremony of the student's high school graduating class and receive a certificate of completion if the student's individualized education program prescribes special education, transition planning, transition services, or related services beyond the student's 4 years of high school. The policy and procedures must require timely and meaningful written notice to children with disabilities and their parents or guardians about the school district's policy and procedures adopted in accordance with this Section.

 (c) The State Board of Education shall monitor and enforce compliance with the provisions of this Section and is authorized to adopt rules for that purpose.




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