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Story - Education

Apr 20, 2010 5:08 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton teenager wants to walk with high school class

Apr 20, 2010 5:08 PM

One local student and his mother say they will do everything they can to fight the East Hampton School District over a policy that will keep the 19-year-old from participating in the high school graduation in June.

In many ways, Devon Grisham is like any of the students at East Hampton High School, his mother Bernette Schoenster says. He gets up at 6 in the morning and drives his truck to 2 Long Lane. He parks in spot No. 85, which was assigned to him. After a full day of classes, Devon gets back in his truck and drives to his part-time job at East Hampton Auto. Devon has an interest in mechanics and also a talent for it, Ms. Schoenster said. He gets good grades in school, and recently, was among a select group of students chosen to attend an auto body mechanics competition in Syracuse. In September, Devon will attend the Universal Technical Institute in Pennsylvania, where he received a $4,500 scholarship to enroll in the diesel mechanics program.

The difference between Devon and his peers is that he, his mother and a group of East Hampton administrators decided during the summer of 2008 that Devon would be better suited in a General Equivalency Diploma program run through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Riverhead, than in the typical high school setting.

Ms. Schoenster said Devon, who has a learning disability, has always had trouble in school. He has been in special education classes since kindergarten, and repeated both kindergarten and second grade. Ms. Schoenster said she pulled Devon out of the East Hampton School District twice, once to go to go to the Christian Academy in Water Mill in second grade, and then to the Childhood Development Center of the Hamptons for grades four through six. But coming out of sixth grade, Devon wanted to be with his friends, so Ms. Schoenster allowed him to return to East Hampton, she said.

“He needed to be back in a normal classroom setting” for middle school, she said. “Or he was not going to be able to adapt in high school.”

But Devon struggled through middle school and failed the ninth grade. When he started 10th grade, he had to repeat his ninth grade classes at the same time, Ms. Schoenster said, and he failed both grades, and his Regents exams.

It was during his sophomore year that Devon and his mother learned he was not on track to graduate until he was 21 years old. Counselors told Ms. Schoenster he still needed to pass all of his Regents classes and take a foreign language.

“We just said, that’s not fair,” she said. “He’s been here the whole time. He’s not the kid who’s sitting in the back of the room or out smoking pot. He’s never skipped a class.”

“It’s not like I hated school,” Devon said. “I never skipped or missed a class. It was just really hard.”

Ms. Schoenster said it was clear her son needed a new plan in the form of a new Individualized Education Plan, which outlines a special education student’s needs, how they will be addressed by the school and family and the desired outcome.

Ms. Schoenster said that during Devon’s time at East Hampton, district administrators signed off on several IEPs that stated he was on track to graduate from the high school.

At a summer meeting in 2008, after Devon had already found out he was not on a path to graduate, he joined his mother at a Committee on Special Education meeting with Rich Burns, director of pupil personnel services, and five other administrators.

“Rich said, ‘We’re going to have to come up with a new situation; this isn’t working,’” Ms. Schoenster recalled. She said Mr. Burns, knowing of Devon’s affinity for mechanics, suggested the BOCES program. BOCES, however, requires a certain number of high school credits for entry, which Devon did not have. Instead, his options were to keep attending classes at the high school for an IEP diploma, which Ms. Schoenster described as a certificate of participation that is “worthless,” or enroll in the GED program.

Ms. Schoenster said she agreed to enroll Devon in the GED program and the next IEP she received reflected the change. But Devon said they were still under the impression that he was a part of the East Hampton School District.

“They promised me I could walk and graduate and now they are saying no,” Devon said. “I don’t want to be a dropout. I remember that day, they were just shaking their heads yes at us and now they are telling us no.”

Mr. Burns and Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri said they could not comment on a student’s IEP.

Speaking generally, Dr. Gualtieri said that a student who is enrolled in a GED program through BOCES is not an East Hampton High School student. He said allowing someone in the GED program to participate in high school graduation would set a precedent for all GED participants, which includes many adults taking night classes.

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Keep fightng Mom, shame on Easthampton School for not working harder with this child.
By mother of firefighter (18), Southampton on Apr 21, 10 3:36 PM
4 members liked this comment
Tell that to the student body as well.

They need to make their voice heard as well, and stand up for their classmate.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 21, 10 7:50 PM
1 member liked this comment
I'm unclear: The young man is of high school age. He has friends in the EH High School. His alternative education path was approved by the EH school principal and Superintendent. All he wants to do is WALK for his graduation and enjoy the pride that results in accomplishing one of the major milestones of early life.

Regardless of whether he is enrolled in EH scools or not-and without recognizing that his learning plan was approved by EH district-even if he just received a GED, what harm ...more
By watermill_mike (35), Sag Harbor on Apr 21, 10 5:37 PM
4 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 21, 10 7:42 PM
Just wondering....didn't EH school district pay the BOCES tuition....doesn't that make this student and EH district student? Setting a precedent by allowing him to walk in the graduation ceremony...he attended EH schools the majority of his school career, sounds like an upstanding member of the school community and is meeting the requirements equal to a high school diploma-- give him an honor that is equal to his peers.....let him participate on the ceremonial process.

EH high schould be ...more
By wondering (63), Southampton on Apr 22, 10 6:11 AM
4 members liked this comment
It is preposterous that Devon being allowed to walk is even at question. They should be CELEBRATING his accomplisments!!! Most other's would have give up and dropped out - he didn't. Congratulations to Devon AND Mom for this HUGE accomplishment and SHAME, SHAME, SHAME on EH for trying to set ANY sort of a precedent on a child who has gone above and beyond. Never heard anything so ridiculous.
By Gail (5), East Hampton on Apr 22, 10 1:02 PM
2 members liked this comment
Just like in Sag Harbor, these administrators who have power and controll issues. It's time not only to clean house in all East Ends districts from adiminstators to teachers. This is only hurting a good kid
By J. Totta (106), Sag Harbor on Apr 22, 10 2:12 PM
1 member liked this comment
YEAH DEVON! Love that this is getting out there. If anyone should be allowed to walk, it should be him! Just an all around great, nice person.
By chelsealizw (15), Amagansett on Apr 22, 10 6:15 PM
Our local schools have administrators that are in positions to help children with obvious LD's. Unfortunatly, many children slip thru the cracks of the school systems due to money, politics and/or ego. Unless a family is incredibly proactive for their child (which doesn't always get their child the help/services they need) or are incredibly wealthy, you can bet your bottom they are just shuffled along.

Most signs of LD's can be picked up when a child is young (pre-k, kinder, 1st). ...more
By NorthSeaNative (34), Southampton on Apr 22, 10 7:14 PM
He has filled his requirements..via EHHS ..he took a different track..but he is going to be given a Diploma..so who really sees anthing more here? Diploma=Graduation=Success...he has had a tough road..now let him join in the Procession! He completed his task here..onward to where he will be more appreciated in his educational surroundings! Go Devon!!
By gansetteer (125), East Hampton on Apr 23, 10 11:06 AM
Of course he should be allowed to walk. This is what they call a 'no brainer'. You don't even have to think about it, to know what is right. The only ones who can't figure this out are the administrators.
By Avatar (15), Westhampton Beach on Apr 24, 10 8:46 AM
To the tin men running the East Hampton schools: get a heart.
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Apr 25, 10 7:42 AM
Mary Pettibone once said...
To repeat what others have said, requires education, to challenge it,
requires brains.
Bernette you continue to fight for your son and know that you have my support!

By carlag123 (4), East HAmpton on Apr 25, 10 7:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
The tax payers of East Hampton ought to be raising a huge fuss and getting behind this boy's mother. The boy has apparently done everything he was asked to do, and done it well enough to earn a scholarship. Good for him! Promises were made and now are not being kept. That's disgraceful. He deserves to experience graduation with the rest of his class.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Apr 26, 10 11:42 AM
1 member liked this comment
This story sounds so familiar to me . This could be my son who is in 10th grade in the Westhampton Beach High School and going through the same exact thing.He will not have enough "credits" to walk with his class either. He has ADHD and has been put in a special needs classroom. It has been a fight to get him help since the 6th grade.At least he also has Boces to teach him a trade. Keep fighting for you son Devon im proud of you!
By CureAutism (4), suffolk on Apr 26, 10 12:42 PM
i argree with wondering and other comments. Devon is a great young man who deserves to walk with his peers who never missed a day or skipped classes. He leaves school and goes to work. He works on weekends. He is trying to better himself. Just because he may not pass all his subjects in school it appears he is passing may of life's lessons. For the high school to not accept BOCES credits is absurd. If so why are students going there? To pass time? Shame on them. Keep your chin up Devon and fight ...more
By robo eh (1), east hampton on Apr 26, 10 1:02 PM
When I was in high school (out here) we had a number of students who could not even read, but because they were into sports, the teachers passed them along and they graduated. Here, we obviously have a talented, responsible student, who wants to learn, and isn't afraid of hard work, and the school is fighting him?? This school should be ashamed of itself. You are there to HELP kids, not put obstacles in their way.
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on Apr 27, 10 10:00 AM
Shame on the EH school district, this young man will become a productive and needed member of society, he should be recognized for a job well done, let him walk.
By BlueStreak (34), East End on Apr 27, 10 11:31 AM
Well, there's a first time for everything, even the deletion of a comment.

I beg to differ with the deletion, and just like this situation, it's a shame that it wasn't merely edited.

I'll boil it down to this.

By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 27, 10 12:42 PM
It seems to me that EH Has had BOCES students graduate in the past with EH graduates...but no one made it "politically correct"...(and REGENTS were not necessary to graduate!...it seems to me this young man is a lot smarter than most would like him to be!....) sorry so late in reply. I hope he reads this and I want to Congratulate him on his success and all future happiness-nothing but best wishes for him and his successful future!
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Jun 11, 10 6:11 AM