Friday, May 27, 2011

Certificate vs. Diploma

In light of the fact that community colleges require at least a GED for entrance, as do most employers, what is the value of an "alternate" diploma for special needs kids (even those attending alternative school)?  Simply put...NONE!

Parents must be aware of the school district's policy regarding "alternate" diplomas; sometimes called "certificate" programs.  Just from a theoretical perspective, the name implies lower expectations of a student.  For this reason, alone, it is not only my professional opinion but the professional opinions of others (i.e. advocates, legal counsel, educators, and doctors) who serve kids that such an option is not in the best interest of any special needs child.  So what is a parent to do when someone at the school suggests an "alternate" diploma for their special needs child?

First, know the law.  IDEA clearly supports high expectations and access to the general education curriculum in the regular education classroom to the maximum extent possible so a child has the greatest opportunity to meet IEP goals and prepare to lead productive and independent lives to the maximum extent possible (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. 1400 (A)(5)(i,ii)).

Second, know the school district's policy as well as the state policy.  State policy over-rides district policy so if these are in conflict, the district needs to know that their policy is not the one to be followed.

Third, explore the thinking behind any recommendation for your child to receive an "alternate" diploma or certificate.  Do they not believe your child can reach the same course standards as the regular education students?  If this is the belief, the question of "why" must be posed.  In addition, IEP kids are entitled to free public education until the age of twenty-one.  Could a continuance of services for your child be what is necessary for those same course standards to be met?  Are they recommending an "alternate" diploma based on your child's developmental level of functioning?  What services are being provided for your child, currently, and do those services need to be changed in any way to help your child meet a higher level of course standard that may help your child achieve that regular diploma?

Do not let the school district convince you that anything less than a regular diploma is acceptable for your child.  Be the advocate for your child and the expert in what your child may need to achieve a regular diploma.  I believe school districts are not in the habit of purposefully lowering standards for students who have special needs.  I believe they simply do not know what other options they may have.  This must be explored by all members of the team, of which the parent is critical.  Become knowledgeable.

Bruce, Susan.  "Certificate Programs v. Regular Diploma--No Way!" 
This article can be viewed on the Wright's Law website

Wright, Peter & Pamela. Special Education Law, Second Edition. Harbor House Law Press, 2010, page 46.

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