Walking across a stage to receive a high school diploma is a proud moment for students and their families; it's the culmination of four years of hard work.
But some students who finished their studies have been denied diplomas for the past three years, because of a change in Tennessee law regarding special education. That law has now been reversed.
Tennessee and 32 other states changed their state laws in 2009. The change did away with the special education diploma and replaced it with a certificate. It was part of a nationwide initiative to make sure graduating students are ready for college or the work force.
To Opal Lee, mother of a 20-year-old son with special needs, the change was a big mistake.
Justin Lee was a few weeks away from walking across the stage at his high school in White House, when his mother was told he would not receive a diploma.
Justin Lee had earned all As, and had good attendance and conduct.
"It felt like a big setback. A huge setback," Opal Lee said.
"If they do everything that's required of them, for them not to receive a diploma, that's infuriating," she said.
Opal Lee said without that document, her son and other students who are high achievers can't compete in a job market where the odds are already against them.
"It's so hard to get a job; without a diploma, that's becoming more and more difficult to do," she said.
So many parents made their voices heard at the state capitol that earlier this year, Tennessee legislators changed the law back to the way it was before. As of July 27, special education students who've completed their individualized education program will now once again get the diploma they worked for, if they've had good attendance and conduct.
"It's great to know that they're going to get their diploma and that they have a chance at their future," Opal Lee said.
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