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It is the beginning of the school year, but high school graduation requirements for special needs students is in the news again. In South Carolina, a new law 1)WSPA has passed that allows students with disabilities to receive an alternative diploma. This credential is for students who are not able to earn the regular 24 credits to graduate, but instead are able to learn skills that make them employable. Even though many school districts in South Carolina had their own version of an ‘occupational’ diploma, there was no uniformity in the state.2)WSPA
South Carolina is not the first state to offer an alternative diploma. As many special education advocates are pushing for alternative diplomas for high school graduation across the United States, students with disabilities now have more options for graduation. It is important for special needs parents to understand the different types of diplomas offered BEFORE their child enters into high school. Parents sometimes wait (or they may not have known) until their child’s last couple of years in high school to think about graduation. This should not be the case since IDEA mandates transition planning before a student turns 16. Since students with disabilities are able to receive services until they graduate with a regular high school diploma or until they turn 21, parents should make sure their child is on the right track (that is appropriate for them) for graduation.
The difference between a regular diploma and alternate diploma
States have been implementing various high school graduation requirements over the last decade or so. As a result, most states have changed graduation requirements, such as the required courses, the number of credits students have to take and the type of exit exams. Currently, to receive a regular diploma, some states still require that all students pass an exit exam, maintain a minimum GPA and complete a certain amount of credits. Whereas to receive an alternate diploma, students (those receiving special education services and have an IEP) may only have to complete a set number of classes or credits and do not have to pass any exit exams.
Should my child be on track for an alternate diploma?
Before you make any decisions about your child’s graduation track, you should take time to fully understand your options. Some parents think a student with a disability equals an alternate diploma and this is not the case. It is important to note that parents should always maintain high expectations for their children despite any challenges or difficulties they might have. Most students with disabilities will have the opportunity to earn a regular high school diploma and should be working towards it. While you discuss the proposed plans for your child after graduation with your child’s IEP team, you want to keep in mind that most employers and community colleges require a GED or high school diploma. Here are also a few more things you want to consider:
- If you are in an IEP meeting and the team believes that your child should be on the alternate track, why?
- What are your child’s goals and talents?
- What expectations do you have for your child?
- What expectations does your child have for themselves?
- What accommodations or modifications does your child need to earn a regular high school diploma?
- What does your child’s transition plan state? (i.e., services, life skills, transition goals, your child’s preferences and strengths)
Additional things you need to know
- Find out your state’s high school graduation requirements, as every state is different.
- Know the alternative curriculum your child is learning (if they are not learning the general education curriculum).
- Stay up-to-date with your child’s progress.
- Communicate regularly with your child’s teachers and IEP team.
- Understand your child’s report card and progress reports.
- If your child is on an alternate diploma, know their options after they graduate.
- Stay involved in your child’s transition plan.
- Continue to have high expectations for your child.
- Find out if your state requires Individual Learning Plans (ILP).
Remember, that if you want your child to attend a community college or 4-year college/university, they need to have a regular diploma. This is why it is important to plan early, know the diploma options offered with your school district and discuss with the IEP team whether an alternate diploma is best for your child.
If you are looking for more information related to this topic read Postsecondary Options for Students with Disabilities, Life Skills for Adults with Autism and Life Planning for Adults with Developmental Disabilities.
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