EXCLUSIVE: San Leandro HS special education students receive long-awaited graduation celebration

Tara Campbell Image
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
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Special education graduates from San Leandro High School celebrated their achievements on July 17 after their certificates were delayed in June.

HAYWARD, Calif. (KGO) -- Sunday, July 17 marked the celebration that a handful of special education students from San Leandro High School have been waiting for.

In June, ABC7 News reported that, although they walked during the school's 2022 commencement ceremony, the students were not added to the graduation program and were told their diplomas were not ordered in time.

"When I see him get something like a certificate or anything, an award it just reminds me of that little boy fighting for his life," said Lena Munoz, emotional over her son Joseph Sanchez Munoz's achievements.

He was born with special needs and had been up against some big battles in his young life -- surviving cancer and now living with kidney and liver transplants.

VIDEO: Multiple special education students excluded from San Leandro HS graduation program

"To see him now being able to do this it just really makes all the fighting that we've done to keep him alive all worth it," she said, noting the battle for recognition has also been worth it. "It's been very hurtful, very hurtful to hear the district basically say they forgot about them."

The students had not been forgotten by the community, however. They gathered with their loved ones on Sunday at Kennedy Park in Hayward, where they each received a certificate from the nonprofit, La Familia, which recognized their strength.

"For somebody else to say 'We got you guys. We're going to celebrate you guys,' it just means the world to them. It makes the nightmare kind of better," said Munoz.

ABC7's Tara Campbell: "How does it make you feel to see all these people out here celebrating you?"

Joseph Sanchez Munoz: "Like proud and happy to have a party I didn't imagine to have, but I had it. For me, just to be proud."

Jesse Haro Belmontes felt pride as well, alongside his mom Yesenia.

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Tara Campbell: "How do you think this will help repair some of the hurt that was caused initially in not having them included?"

Yesenia Belmontes: "A lot. A Lot because he's really nervous to go back to school, but this is going to help a lot for him."

Tara Campbell: "Can you tell me how it feels for you today to have these people supporting you?"

Jesse Haro Belmontes: "It's exciting and fun."

For Joseph, there was a mix of emotions, the disappointment still deep.

"How can you forget these amazing kids who have been in school, who are trying really hard because this is like a big achievement for them?" said Munoz.

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