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Certificate Program v. Regular Diploma - No Way!
by Susan Bruce

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girl graduate“My child is getting ready for 9th grade. She has an IEP. The school suggested we put her in the certificate program. Is this a good idea?"

This is a subject parents need to consider carefully. It has been my experience that the “alternate diploma” is not worth the paper it is written on. Even community colleges require at least a GED. Most employers require a high school diploma, GED, or ask that a perspective employee work toward one of those.

Don’t settle for an “alternate diploma.” Begin with the highest expectation possible for your child. Don’t lower that expectation until you extinguish every possibility.

What can a parent do?

First, consider what the IDEA says about high expectations in the purposes section.

“Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular education classroom, to the maximum extent possible…” 20 U.S.C.1400 (c)(5)

This should be done in order for a child to-

“meet developmental goals and, to the maximum extent possible, the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and

be prepared to lead productive and independent lives, to the maximum extent possible.”

Second, consider the following questions.

  • Why does the IEP team feel your child cannot meet course standards in order to receive a regular high school diploma?
  • What supports and accommodations were discussed that would help your child receive a regular high school diploma?
  • What does your child need in order to meet the same expectations as other students?
  • Could your child complete the requirements for the regular diploma by the time he is 21? A student with a disability can receive services until the age of 21 or until he graduates with a regular high school diploma, whichever comes first.
  • Would the “alternate diploma” allow your child, to the maximum extent possible, to lead a productive and independent life?
  • Is the alternate diploma appropriate for your child’s level of functioning?

Third, consider using the transition plan to address the diploma.

Transition Planning

An IEP should include transition services no later than the first IEP in effect when the student turns 16. The age could be younger, depending on your state’s special education regulations.

Transition services are services that step your child up to moving to the adult world.

Transition services should:

  • Be designed with a results oriented process.
  • Focus on improving the academic and functional achievement of your child to “move” your child from school to post school activities.

Post school activities could include any of the following.

  • Postsecondary education (college)
  • Vocational education
  • Integrated employment
  • Continuing adult education (GED, perhaps)
  • Adult services
  • Independent living
  • Community participation

The transition plan should base transition services on your child’s individual needs. The IEP team should consider your child’s preferences, interests, and strengths. What does he want to do?

If your child wants to attend a community college or college, he will need that regular high school diploma!

Transition services should include the following.

  • Instruction (address deficit areas)
  • Related services
  • Community experiences
  • Development of employment and other post school living objectives
  • Acquisition of daily living skills, if appropriate

Transition services in the IEP must include:

  • Appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments, related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and
  • The transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the child in reaching those goals.

Transition services can be special education, if your child needs the services provided as specially designed instruction or a related service in order to benefit from special education!

When thinking about transition planning, ask yourself these questions.

  • How does your child’s transition plan address moving her from the school world to the real world?
  • What are your child’s preferences?
  • What are your child’s strengths?
  • What does your child want to do after graduation?
  • What does your child need in order to help her meet those goals?
  • Does your child need remediation in a particular area in order to meet these goals?
  • What assessments tools did the school use?
  • Are the transition goals in the IEP measurable?
  • Where is the data?

IEP teams can develop and use transition plans to help students with disabilities meet the high expectations set for all students. As with every other special education issue, make yourself an expert.

Created: 01/12/11

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Susan Bruce

Susan BruceSusan’s most relevant experience is as the mother of four, three of which are students with disabilities. Susan’s next most relevant experience is as a ten year parent advocate and trainer with South Carolina’s former Parent Training and Information Center, PRO*Parents of SC. Susan has trained over 5000 parents, attorneys and advocates during her tenure with PRO*Parents on virtually any topic that has to do with special education and civil rights law.

Susan’s passion for assisting parents and extensive knowledge of the practical application of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act along with other laws applying to children makes her a fierce advocate for students. The training she has received over the last ten years is second to none. Susan has trained under some the nation’s leading advocates and attorneys, such as Chris Ziegler Dendy, Rick Lavoie, Matt Cohen and Pete Wright of www.wrightslaw.com.

A Board Member of COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) for 4 years and a member for 7 years, she serves as the board secretary as well as serving on COPAA's executive committee. She also sits on the media relations, advocate and conference committees. Susan has honed her skills by attending COPAA’s National Conference for the last 7 years, presenting sessions at the last 6 and was asked by COPAA to provide the two day advocate training at their preconference for the last 3 years. She has a certificate from the William and Mary School of Law Institute of Special Education Advocacy and holds certificates in non-profit management from Duke and Winthrop University. However, Susan believes that her expertise actually lies in a specialized field that in all actuality can only be obtained by hands on experience and is not taught in any university setting.

Susan continues to hone her skills by continually training, she believes that a vital part of advocacy lies in staying abreast of ever changing case law, scientific research and guidance from the US Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights.
Susan is a published author, her articles on special education and Section 504 have been published by advocacy organizations all over the country.

Susan Bruce and Mary Eaddy receive ISEA CertificatesJuly 2012 - William and Mary Law School Institute of Special Education Advocacy

Susan Bruce receives their certificate from ISEA 2012 at the W&M Law School Institute of Special Education Advocacy for advanced advocates.

Contact information

susan@spedad.com or susan.spedad@gmail.com

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