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Graduation of Students with Disabilities – Graduation Requirements

Accessibility, Education

By Amanda Glass, Staff Attorney

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Arizona law, IDEA-eligible students are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) from ages 3 to 21 (or to age 22, if their birthday occurs prior to the end of the school year). A student’s receipt of FAPE is directed by their Individualized Education Program, or IEP.

Once a student receives a regular high school diploma or “ages out” of special education, the public school district or charter school’s obligation to continue providing FAPE ends. This means that when a student meets the requirements set by the Arizona State Board of Education and their school for the receipt of a regular high school diploma, or at the end of the school year during which the student turns 22 years old, the student will no longer receive services from their public school.

Unfortunately, despite guidance from the Arizona Department of Education on this topic, many schools continue to attempt to graduate students with significant developmental disabilities on the basis that they have earned enough credits, despite those credits not fulfilling state content area requirements or aligning with state standards.

Some schools award students with disabilities a regular high school diploma based only on the fact that the student has completed 22 credits of coursework. Completing 22 credits alone does not mean there are grounds to force the student to graduate.

To earn a regular high school diploma in Arizona, it is true that students must earn a minimum of 22 credits. However, those credits must be in specific content areas and in courses that are aligned with the state’s academic standards. Course requirements for a regular high school diploma must include, at a minimum:

  • 4 credits of English or English as a Second Language;
  • 3 credits in social studies to include one credit of American history, including: Arizona history; one credit of world history/geography; one-half credit of American government, including Arizona government; and one-half credit of economics.
  • 4 credits of mathematics to minimally include Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 (or a personal curriculum), and a fourth course that contains high school content.
  • 3 credits of science in preparation for proficiency at the high school level on the statewide science assessment.
  • 1 credit of fine arts or career and technical education and vocational education.
  • 7 credits of additional courses prescribed by the local school district governing board or charter school. A.A.C. R7-2-302

Individual school districts or charters may set higher graduation requirements for their own students, but may not set lower requirements.

Sometimes schools will argue that a student’s coursework has fulfilled all content requirements, but parents disagree. For example, as noted above, Arizona students are required to take and pass a geometry math course to earn a high school diploma. The student may be able to take and pass a geometry class that uses a modified curriculum and is aligned to state standards through core content connectors in order to fulfill the geometry requirement. However, if the student is enrolled in a “Shapes of the World” course or a Life Skills math course that is not aligned to geometry state standards, that course would not fulfill the geometry requirement and should not count toward graduation with a regular diploma. Parents/students may need to review their child’s transcript and course catalogs to determine whether a student’s completed coursework aligns with Arizona’s academic standards.

If your child’s public school or charter is pushing graduation before your child has earned the minimum credits in accordance with minimum state standards and you don’t believe graduation is an appropriate change of placement, review the first Blog Post in this series for information about dispute resolution options.

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

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