Norwich Tech senior fighting for ramp at graduation

Norwich — After four years in the biotechnology program at Norwich Technical High School, Kyle Tempesta is excited to graduate on June 21.

This week, however, the school informed him that he wouldn't be able to cross the stage with the rest of his classmates. Instead, he would have to receive his diploma in front of the stage.

Tempesta, who lives in Montville, has LCHAD deficiency, an inherited genetic condition that prevents people from using certain types of fat for energy. People who have it have heart problems and a lack of energy, and if they have very low blood sugar, their bodies start breaking down muscle as a source of energy.

Earlier this year, he and his science partner Courtney Michaud presented a two-year research project, which used fruit flies and roundworms to study the disease, at the high school science fair mentoring competition at CURE Innovation Commons in Groton.

Tempesta said he was asked by the administration in January whether he wanted to cross the stage to receive his diploma, and he said yes. He found out in a conversation with his school psychologist that there wouldn't be a ramp for him to get onto the stage.

"That kind of threw all of us off-guard because, for the past six months, we thought there was going to be a ramp," he said.

Tempesta took to Facebook to air his frustrations, and his post has since been shared more than 300 times. He said several students have approached the school administration and carpentry department to petition for a solution, and his family has received offers from people outside the Norwich Tech community to build a ramp or rent one out for graduation.

"Everyone's upset, everyone that I've talked to has basically said it's ridiculous because they have to comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines and recommendations and give me accommodations," he said. "It's been very reassuring to see how many people have been sharing it, and I think it's been helping to make them actually do something about it."

Peter Yazbak, director of communications for the state Department of Education, said the school administration initially had approached the carpentry department last month about building a ramp in-house but were told it couldn't be completed in time. Since then, officials have been working with a staging company to come up with something.

"The Norwich Tech administration has been working on a solution since last month and is exploring a number of options including engaging the services of a staging company to provide a ramp fitted out to the specifications of the graduation ceremony stage," he said in an official statement. "The company is willing to provide the ramp free of charge. The school's administration is confident an appropriate solution will found before the date of the ceremony on June 21."

He also said the school received another offer Thursday from a company specializing in mobility and accessibility solutions in the event the staging company is unable to provide a ramp.

Tempesta said the school hasn't notified his family of their plans but, in the end, it doesn't really matter to him as long as there is a ramp for him to cross the stage. Nevertheless, he's disappointed in the administration in how they handled the situation.

He said he wasn't sure if he was the first student at Norwich Tech who has needed a ramp for graduation, but he knows of at least one other student at the school with mobility issues who likely will need one in the future.

"I definitely want to be the last person that they screw over like this," he said.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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