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Graduation of Students with Disabilities


By Amanda Glass, Staff Attorney

For years, public school districts and charter schools in Arizona have proposed that students with significant disabilities graduate before they turn 22 years old, even when they have not earned a regular high school diploma or have not received adequate or appropriate transition services. This post is the first of a series about graduation for students with disabilities. The series will discuss graduation requirements, the rights of students with disabilities to receive appropriate transition services, and tips for parents or adult students if they disagree with their school’s decision regarding graduation.

If your child has an IEP and their school district or charter school is requiring them to graduate, this decision is a change of placement under the IDEA. As with any change of placement, schools must issue a prior written notice to the student/parents describing the change before it happens.

When schools propose to graduate a student with an IEP, they must develop and provide the student/parents with a Summary of Performance. This is a summary of the student’s academic achievement and functional performance. It must include recommendations to assist the student in meeting his or her postsecondary goals. The Summary of Performance should contain valuable information that can help post-secondary agencies, such as colleges or universities, trade schools, vocational rehabilitation agencies, employers, or day programs, better understand and accommodate a student’s needs.

In some cases, a student or parent may disagree with the proposed change in placement because they believe the student is not ready to graduate and end special education services.  One reason a student/parents may oppose graduation is if the student has not fulfilled the graduation requirements set by the state. This reason will be explored in tomorrow’s post. Another reason is if the school district or charter school has failed to provide sufficient and appropriate transition services, thereby denying the student FAPE. This will be covered in our third post.

If a student or parent disagrees with the school’s decision to graduate a student with a disability, there are several dispute resolution options:

  • Request a facilitated IEP meeting to discuss the student’s special education with the help of a trained facilitator;
  • If you believe part of the school’s decision to graduate the student is based on inaccurate or outdated data, or if you believe the student has not been provided adequate or appropriate transition services, consider requesting an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) in order to get new data on the student and a second opinion from an expert;
  • Request mediation from the Arizona Department of Education to attempt to resolve your dispute with the school;
  • File a complaint to request a due process hearing.
    • Try to file your complaint before the student is forced to graduate.
    • If your complaint is filed while the student is still enrolled in school, you can invoke stay put, which means the student gets to “stay put” in their current placement (which means they get to stay enrolled in school) until the due process complaint has been resolved, either through a settlement or disposition at hearing.
    • Stay Put is an effective way to prevent the student from being graduated while you work out your dispute with the school. If you are not able to file your complaint before graduation, you can still file and request as relief that the diploma be rescinded and special education services be reinstated, but during the complaint process the student will be considered graduated and will not receive services until the judge makes a decision or you settle the case.

For more information on this topic, please visit the following links:

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