Mother protests when blind, deaf Tates Creek graduate not allowed to participate in graduation.
Profoundly deaf and visually impaired, Joseph Boggs finished his studies and received a diploma from Lexington’s Tates Creek High School at the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, his mother said.
But he wasn’t allowed to participate in Monday’s graduation ceremonies at Rupp Arena despite his mother’s very visible campaign. June Boggs had placed protest signs around the facility —with roughly a dozen signs on Broadway alone — and at other locations in Lexington.
The signs noted her son’s disabilities and said, “Let Joe Boggs Walk” with the 2019 Tates Creek High School graduating class. The signs included a school district phone number.
Boggs said she and her attorney were not given a reason why Joseph Boggs couldn’t walk across the stage Monday with other members of this year’s graduating class. “He would be capable of walking across that stage,” June Boggs said.
Fayette County School District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said, “Student participation in a commencement exercise is a privilege, not a right. Each school has the authority to determine whether or not a student is eligible to march, and we fully support Principal Marty Mills’ decision in this case. “
Mills said only “issues of health and safety would lead me to consider” excluding a student from graduation.
A school district police report obtained by the Herald-Leader under the Kentucky Open Records Act, said in May 2018, Joseph Boggs allegedly left a threatening telephone message for Associate Principal Justin Cheatham.
According to the report, Boggs allegedly stated, “I’ve got friends in Texas that’ll come and take care of you; you better watch out.” Boggs called five times between midnight and 9 a.m., the report said.
But Cheatham declined to prosecute, the report said.
Although her son’s behavior changed after he had a head injury in a car wreck in 2015, June Boggs said her son was not a threat to anyone in 2018 and is not now. As an example, she said, school officials allowed Joseph Boggs to go back to Tates Creek Highfor two days to finish his studies earlier this academic year.
She said that Joseph Boggs was misunderstood after the wreck. June Boggs said her son previously had an interaction with a school police officer when Joseph was in pain and walking down the hallway without his hearing aids. She said Joseph was seeking a safe place and had his back to the officer who misunderstood him when Joseph said, ‘Don’t touch me or I will sue you.” The officer mistakenly thought that Joseph used the word “shoot,” Boggs said. Subsequently, Joseph was patted down by officers for about six months.
Deffendall said district officials were aware of June Boggs’ graduation efforts and were “aware there are allegations circulating on social media and with yard signs, but due to state and federal privacy laws regarding students, we are not able to ... even comment on the truthfulness of those allegations.”
“I would encourage the media and our community to focus on celebrating the hundreds of Tates Creek seniors who not only completed the academic requirements for their diplomas, but also earned the privilege of walking across the stage, rather than a single individual who is seeking to create a distraction.”
Despite obstacles with his sight and hearing, Joseph Boggs accomplishments include speaking in the Kentucky Capitol Rotunda and receiving national and local recognition for overcoming his disabilities, his mother said.
The Boggs’ family previously made public their concerns about the Fayette school district.
In 2015, Joseph Boggs at a public meeting appealed to Fayette County school board members to improve special education services, saying, “I am not being challenged,” the Herald-Leader reported.
He said at the time that the district’s failure to meet his needs left him “feeling helpless and alone.”
District officials have since conducted an audit of its special education services and recently added more staff.