Protect the rights of students with IEP to dispute the award of a high school diploma and remain in school
“It is the policy of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System (hereafter referred to as PSS) to make available a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students with disabilities ages 3 to 21…” NMIAC § 60-50-101.
There are some limitations and exceptions: NMIAC § 60-50-105. One of the exceptions is that “[t]he obligation make FAPE available does not apply to children with disabilities who have graduated from high school with a regular high school diploma.” NMIAC § 60-50-105 (b).
Graduation from high school with a regular high school diploma constitutes a change in placement, requiring written prior notice. The term regular high school diploma does not include an alternative degree that is not fully aligned with the CNMI PSS’ academic standards, such as a certificate or a general education development credential. NMIAC § 60-50-105 (b): Therefore, CNMI PSS is required to give written notice whenever it proposes to graduate a student with an IEP from high school, i.e., proposes a change of placement. NMIAC § 60-50-502.
Because a student’s eligibility to receive special education services will terminate upon graduation and is considered a change in placement, parents have a right to dispute the award of a diploma and use the due process system to try to prevent the loss of services. Graduation should not be used as a device to prematurely terminate special education services needed by a student.
This is not to say that, for example, a student with a mild learning disability, who requires only minor classroom modifications cannot be expected to earn the same credits toward graduation as a non-disabled peer and graduate upon completing those credits. But students with more severe disabilities typically need to be measured on a different scale. For such a student the TEAM needs to establish criteria for graduation that are based on IEP goals and objectives specific to that student. Criteria for the delivery of a diploma, or the termination of special education services before the student “ages out,” should in good sense be based on achievement of functional living skills and employability, as well as meeting academic standards. (Crabtree, Robert K. “Developmental Disabilities & High School Graduation,” Topics: Developmental Disabilities & High School Graduation [https://www.wrightslaw.com › fape.graduate.crabtree.htm].
In the event that the school system proposes to graduate a student with disabilities who has not achieved the education and employability skills needed, action can be taken to protect the rights of the student to remain in school. Initially, the IEP and proposed graduation should be discussed with the IEP team. However, if an appropriate education plan cannot be established and the school system insists on graduation for the student, that decision can be contested using the PSS’ due process procedures.
Students with developmental disabilities have a right to a free appropriate education and should not be deprived of that right by the inappropriate awarding of a high school diploma.
JEANNE RAYPHAND (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Jeanne Rayphand, Esq. is legal counsel for the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc.