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Georgia Law Blocks Autistic Student From Graduating


The family of a 17-year-old autistic high school student is outraged that a state law is barring him from graduating.

Sinclaire Coffer excels at English and history and dreams of one day becoming a film director. He struggles with math. That's a problem, because Georgia requires all students to pass a math exam to earn their diploma. For Coffer, he just can't.

"Once he starts it, and he learns it, he can do it. But when you walk away, he forgets the steps," his mother, Linda Coffer, told WAGA-TV.

"We’ve gotten a private tutor," she told WSB-TV. "He’s taken classes that are offered by the school in summer and throughout the school year.”

Coffer said he's taken the math exam five times. He's failed every try.

The family says school officials at North Springs Charter in Fulton County, Ga. are well aware of Coffer's difficulties due to his diagnosis. The state allows students with disabilities to apply for a waiver to have Georgia's education board vote on whether they can graduate without passing the test. On Thursday, the board voted to deny Coffer's request -- one week before the ceremony.

"I won't be able to graduate. I can walk, but I can't graduate," Coffer said.

Linda Coffer said her son's other successes should merit an exception.

"With the graduation rate so low, they want to hold back a student that is worthy of graduation, and it’s just not fair," she said.

Ironically, the state seems to agree with her: The law has been changed, but won't take effect until next year, WAGA reported.

A state board of education spokesman said federal law blocks him from discussing the specifics of Coffer's case.

"I can’t give you a 'why' answer because, one, it’s protected by FERPA Law and two, the state board votes, and all 13 have individual opinions as to why they vote a certain way," spokesman Matt Cardoza told WSB in an email, referring to the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act.

Cardoza said Coffer's case is unfortunate, but not unique: He said the board denies most of the waiver requests it receives.

Coffer's sister Capri told WAGA she's devastated for her brother.

"It hurts my heart because he is such a good person. And for him not to graduate and not be able to pursue his dreams, it's really just an injustice," she said.

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