10 Things You Need to Know For Graduating Students with Disabilities

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Author: Heather Edwards, Attorney at Law

High school graduation represents a particular, important milestone for students with disabilities. Along with the pomp and circumstance, graduation is an event that requires local educational agencies (“LEAs”) to adhere to certain procedural requirements regarding students with disabilities. The end of the school year is not the time for school staff to develop “senioritis.” Here are a few reminders of key requirements when a student with a disability graduates and receives a diploma:

  1. Convene an IEP meeting prior to graduation and termination of services to ensure that graduation requirements have been met.
  1. Graduation with a regular high school diploma constitutes a change in placement that requires the LEA to provide parents with prior written notice of its intent to graduate the student within a reasonable time before graduation.
  1. There is no requirement to reevaluate a student before termination of a child’s eligibility due to graduation with a regular high school diploma. Furthermore, LEAs are not required to reevaluate a student for the sole purpose of securing accommodations for outside tests such as the SAT/ACT.
  1. Ensure that IEPs include measurable, postsecondary goals in the areas of: training, education, employment, independent living skills (if appropriate), and appropriate transition services to assist the child in reaching these post-secondary goals.
  1. LEAs must provide the student with a summary of the child’s academic achievement and functional performance, including recommendations on how to assist the child in meeting the child’s post-secondary goals.
  1. IDEA relieves an LEA of the obligation to provide a free appropriate public education to students who graduate with a regular high school diploma. However, LEAs are obligated to continue to make available a free appropriate public education to students who have not been awarded a regular high school diploma until the student becomes 22 years of age.
  1. A student graduating from high school does not cut off the LEA’s obligation to remedy a past failure to offer FAPE. Compensatory education may be available for students with disabilities who have graduated from high school with a regular diploma if they can establish that the LEA denied FAPE when they were eligible for IDEA services, and can establish a need for compensatory services.
  1. LEAs are prohibited from developing an IEP that extends eligibility, and in no event may a pupil be required or allowed to attend school beyond graduating with a regular high school diploma solely because the pupil has not met his or her goals or objectives.
  1. A student receiving a certificate of achievement or completion has the right to participate in graduation ceremonies and any school activity related to graduation. LEAs may, but are not required to, award a certificate of achievement or completion. However, if participating in graduation-related activities is specified in a child’s IEP (as part of her participation in integrated activities at school), the LEA must implement the IEP and allow the student to participate in the graduation activities.
  1. Choose accessible graduation venues. IEPs and 504 plans should serve as a guide to ensure equitable participation by students with disabilities in graduation ceremonies and other end-of-year activities.
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