Students with Down Syndrome won't be part of ESU commencement

Published: 8:00 PM EDT Mar 11, 2013   Updated: 9:23 AM EDT Mar 13, 2013

Commencement controversy: Students on one Monroe County college campus say some of their peers are getting shut out of a rite of passage but the school sees it much differently.

For many, college commencement is the pinnacle of four years of hard work but East Stroudsburg University's upcoming graduation is getting some diploma diplomacy.

"They're paying to go to this university. That privilege is being taken away from them," junior Andrew Christman said.

The campus controversy stems from six students in the Career and Independent Living and Learning Studies program-- s post secondary form of education for students with cognitive disabilities, like Down syndrome.

Early in the semester, many on campus learned the six wouldn't be part of ESU's spring graduation.

"We've seen them on campus; it's like on of our members is being discriminated against," Christman added.

The commencement controversy is now front page news in the school newspaper.

A petition was started to allow the students to walk during graduation. Some even took to Twitter by bombarding the university president's Twitter page.

"Saying horrible things about a lot of different people on twitter," Student Senate President Lauren Zirkelbach said.

While the CILLS program takes place on campus, what the school says students didn't know was they weren't technically taking ESU classes.

"They're not college classes, not credit bearing classes, not degree programs," Dept. Chair of the Special Education rehabilitation and Human Services Gina Scala said.

The university also said "because the CILLS program is not an accredited academic program that would lead to degree completion, we cannot support the request to have the participants walk in ESU’s May commencement."

"We know we want to have a celebration they deserve as well as one the whole university can participate in," Scala said.

Zirkelbach doesn't know what that will be but says it's fair.

"The student body as a whole wants to be a part of it. We're just waiting to hear what they have planned for them," Zirkelbach said.

The school is meeting this week to discuss exactly what they will do for the six students. And the CILLS students are already set to be honored in two other separate ceremonies this spring.