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To Graduate or
Not To Graduate

This resource was prepared by Attorney Judith C. Saltzman, of councel to the Cleveland and Sheffield Village law firm of Hickman & Lowder Co., L.P.A., and is intended to provide broad general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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This article is reprinted from the February 13, 2014 edition of the Cleveland Jewish News.

Attention Must be Given to Special Needs Graduation

by Judith Saltzman

Does this sound familiar?

Your school gives your developmentally disabled 18-year-old 20 academic credits for years spent in the resource room, and obtains her written consent to an Individualized Education Program providing for graduation with a regular education diploma at age 19. You want your child to receive services until he or she is 22.
What must you know to protect your child?

Unless there is an order of guardianship, all parental rights under special education laws are transferred to the child when he or she reaches 18. If your child is competent, he or she can execute an “educational power of attorney” in which either can delegate continuing responsibility for educational decision making to you. Unless you have either an order of guardianship or a power of attorney, the school district will discuss graduation directly with your 18-year-old without your consent.

Regular education students must complete 20 academic credits and pass the Ohio Graduation Test to graduate. Special education students are only required to complete the requirements of their IEP, which can exempt the student from the consequences of failing the OGT. Graduation with a regular education diploma ends eligibility for special education.

Since children with disabilities need more time than typical children to make appropriate progress, they are eligible for services until age 22. However, they will receive services until this date only if there is an IEP that provides a Free Appropriate Public Education that the child continues to work on.

Transition planning, with goals and objectives in the areas of employment, independent living and adaptive skills, is a critical part of the IEP process, and should occur prior to graduation. If your child’s IEP does not have appropriate transition goals, your school district has not met its obligation to provide your child with FAPE (free and appropriate education).

Graduation of a special education child with a regular education diploma is a change of special education placement. Ohio does not permit change of placement without parental consent. If the school district unilaterally announces its intent to graduate the child, the family may pursue legal action. This should block graduation pending resolution of the dispute, allowing the parent more time to advocate for an appropriate IEP and more time in school.

A child who has decided not to graduate may request a “social graduation.” This procedure, which allows the child to participate in the ceremony with peers but gives him a blank diploma, is at the option of the school board, which is obligated to have a consistent policy.

When approaching graduation, maintain your advocacy to ensure that your child’s IEP continues to be appropriate.

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