New policy makes graduation more inclusive for Mesa students

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Mesa Public Schools adopted a new policy regarding graduation participation. Mesa Public Schools adopted a new policy regarding graduation participation.
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Mesa Public Schools has adopted a new policy regarding graduation participation after serious backlash over how they handled a Dobson High student's case last year.

"It was very difficult for me," Stephen Dwyer said.

The teen is still haunted by what happened last May.

Dwyer had battled back from leukemia, but his fight took him out of school for his entire junior year.

"May of my senior year I was short two-and-a-half credits. I was student body president. I was a straight-A student, and I really just wanted to walk at my graduation and not receive my diploma, but just be a part of it with my friends, and I was denied that," said Dwyer.

At the time the district policy was no diploma, no ceremony and they would not budge, meaning Dwyer could not participate.

"We still look at pictures of that and it's tough, it's kind of a hole that I've said we'll never really fill," Rick Dwyer, Stephen's father said.

So the family got to work.

"The right thing to do was to make sure kids in the future -- God forbid it happens -- that they have a way to participate," said Rick.

He spent months helping administrators craft a policy change that was fair and more inclusive.

"I think a deciding factor in our conversations with the task force was when I said you're talking about kids. Not in our case. We're very blessed Stephen's very healthy now, but some kids, they won't have next year to walk, they just won't," said Rick.

Just last week, the governing board approved the change, which says in part, "A non-graduating student may participate in commencement ceremony" as long as the school's principal recommends it and the superintendent signs off on it.

"I'm just really happy they've changed it and that it will be good for all the kids in the future," Stephen said.

The only thing that could make all of this even better, Dwyer says, would be if he got an apology for how all of this was handled.

He did graduate in December of 2016, and has plans to attend Lake Forrest College, in the fall, where he will join the swim team.

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