Can you walk at graduation without graduating from high school?

As one of my attorney friends put it, “This question seems to come up every spring for the past 20 years.”

A student wants to walk with her class, but doesn’t complete her requirements until the summer. District says it’s policy that students can’t walk without fulfilling requirements. Are than any exceptions when the student has an IEP?

13th year graduation walk

School Graduation Policy

First, in almost all cases, an IEP (which is a Federal document) can override school policy.

As a side note, this is so frustrating! Why would you not want to give a child their moment in the sun? They have worked just as hard (in many cases, worked harder, overcome more obstacles) to get there, and it’s not any extra work to allow a child to walk. It feels spiteful.

Second, you’re going to have to do an internet search for your state’s policies and codes regarding graduation. I have the PA code quoted below, and it very specifically addresses this. Other states may not be so specific. To my knowledge, IDEA does not address this. This is one of those “leave it up to the states” issues.

That being said, if your state does not specifically prohibit this, you have a strong case for your child. Get engaged early, don’t start thinking about this on May 15…it will be too late to do anything if you have a battle.

Do you know what your IEP rights are?
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Graduating with an IEP in Pennsylvania

But second, I have from a reliable source that an email from the State of PA went out to school district superintendents recently (this was 2015), and this is what it says. Keep in mind, this quotes the PA Code, so check your state’s code or laws for what you need.

“It will soon be that time of year when schools throughout the commonwealth will be celebrating students’ accomplishments through graduation ceremonies at which high school diplomas are bestowed upon students who have completed their high school graduation requirements. The opportunity for classmates with disabilities to celebrate these accomplishments with their graduating class may not be prohibited based on their attendance to a different school, or plans to continue their special education program beyond the four years.”

Can my child “walk” with the graduating class even though she is not graduating?

In May of 2006, the Pennsylvania Public School Code was amended to include a new provision regarding participation by students with disabilities in high school graduation ceremonies (24 P.S. §16-1614). (document in full is below, scroll down)

  • (a) For the 2005-06 school year and each school year thereafter, a Board of Directors of a school district, an area vocational-technical school or a charter school shall allow a student with a disability, whose individualized education program as established pursuant to 22 Pa. Code §14.131 (relating to IEP) prescribes continued special education programs beyond the fourth year of high school, to participate in commencement ceremonies with the student’s graduating class and receive a certificate of attendance, provided that the student has attended four (4) years of high school regardless of whether the student has completed the individualized education program.
  • (b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to preclude a student with a disability from receiving a high school diploma when the student satisfactorily completes an individualized education program as required under 22 Pa. Code §14.131. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in complying with this mandated requirement.
  • Should you have any questions regarding the participation of students with disabilities in graduation ceremonies, please contact Patty Todd, Special Education Adviser, at

So, there you go. The State Code. I don’t think it gets any clearer than that, and if you have any questions, there is an email to contact someone. Many APSs (Approved Private Schools) and vocational schools also have a year-end ceremony of some type, so if a typical child is allowed to do both ceremonies, so is one with special needs.

If you live in another state, I would contact your state’s Disability Protection and Advocacy organization and ask them.

PA Graduation Requirements

This is only for Pennsylvania. Check your state for specifics.

(this was published in 2015 and was updated to check links)