The MLO Minute: By, Nancy Potter, Esq.
We have recently received questions from parents and students wondering if students with IEPs can somehow delay graduation to make up for what they have missed during Covid-related school closings and distance learning. While students who have not received FAPE during this time may certainly be entitled to compensatory education, students may also be able to stay in school and continue services after what would have been considered her or his senior year. But there are some steps that need to be taken.
Under the IDEA, students with disabilities are entitled to special education and related services until the end of the school year ( which include ESY) following her or his 21st birthday or, whenever the student accepts a diploma – whichever comes first. Once a student accepts a diploma – regardless of the student ’s age – the right to special education and related services terminates. Accepting a diploma is NOT the same as participating in graduation activities and even walking across the stage. It is the acceptance of a diploma that triggers an “exit” from the IDEA umbrella of services.
When considering whether the student should be given a diploma prior to age 21, the IEP team may not rely solely upon whether a student has completed credits and coursework for graduation. It must also consider whether the student ’s transition goals have been met and whether there is a need for continued transition services to help a student achieve the desired goal upon graduation and should identify the services needed to achieve that goal. How and when a student “graduates” should be part of the IEP conversation when the team is discussing post secondary goals and we suggest that these conversations begin when a student is in middle school.
It is very possible for a student to have earned enough credits to graduate, but not have met IEP goals related to transition, including independent living. In such situations, the student should remain in school. If the student has enough credits for graduation, the student may benefit from taking classes at a community college while still enrolled in high school. Students can be “dually enrolled,” so long as the classes taken are in furtherance of the student’s IEP goals.
If you are not sure of your student’s progress, request an IEP meeting to discuss and also consider requesting a re-evaluation of your student’s present educational levels, needs, and skills. The school is not required to re-evaluate students prior to graduation; however, getting an updated assessment may help you and the rest of the team determine if the student has met IEP goals and is ready to graduate.
If a dispute arises regarding whether the student should receive a diploma, parents may file for mediation and due process. Graduation is considered a change in placement for a student with an IEP. If your student has an IEP, your school must provide you with written notice of the school’s intent to graduate your student from High School.
Even when the IEP team, including the student, all agree that services should continue, many students want to take part in the graduation ceremony with her or his class and peers. Student’s with IEPs who are continuing beyond four years are allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony with their class. The decision to stay in school past the usual four years of High School is very much an individualized one and should be based on the student’s needs and goals related to work, education and living after high school.