Most people familiar with special education believe that students are only entitled to remain in school and receive special education until they either have enough credits to graduate or they turn 21, whichever comes first. There has long been concern for students who are “pushed out” of school by graduating with enough credits, when those credits may have been given, not because they were earned, but for the purpose of speeding along the process.
There are other students who do well on academic courses with supports, but whose individualized education plans (IEPs) reflect a variety of needs for social, communication, and independent living skills. Sometimes these skills can be even more critical for success after high school than a good grade in history or literature. Those students may earn enough credits to graduate but be completely unprepared for the post-secondary world.
Recently, the Disabilities Rights Center (DRC) successfully represented a young man, “Eric”, in a hearing at the NH Department of Education. The Oyster River School District had anticipated Eric would have earned sufficient credits to graduate in June 2009, but had determined it was appropriate for him to attend an additional year of high school to enable him to take a full year Spanish class and to continue making progress on his IEP and transition plan. In August 2009, just before the start of the school year, the school district reversed its decision and required Eric to graduate in January 2010, midway through the school year. Even though he had earned enough credits, Eric had not taken classes (Spanish II and physics) recommended for admission to the type of college he hoped to attend. In addition, Eric had not met his transition plan, goals, and objectives, and still lacked critical social and communication skills necessary to succeed in college, work, and living independently.
Eric, who is very intelligent, has Asperger’s Syndrome and an emotional disability. He achieved high scores on the SAT and plans to go to UNH. His extreme anxiety and poor social skills made it difficult for him to interact and communicate with others independently, including teachers, adults in the community, and peers.
Eric’s IEP and transition plan included goals to improve his social and communication skills, increase his participation in the community, and to be able to find and hold a job. The plan was not completed by the school district, and Eric had not met many of the goals.
In the decision, recently issued by the New Hampshire Department of Education, the hearing officer agreed with Eric’s parents that he was entitled to another semester of school because he had not received the services in his transition plan, and he had not made sufficient progress on his IEP goals for independent living, community participation, and vocational preparation.
The hearing officer’s decision ordered that Eric be allowed to continue in school for his final semester so he could complete Spanish and physics classes at the high school, and ordered that his IEP be implemented. It also ordered the school district to implement transition goals outlined by a transition coordinator. Eric benefitted greatly from the additional semester. The full decision can be found on the NH Department of Education's website here.
The Disabilities Rights Center is New Hampshire’s protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities. If you would like to speak with an advocate regarding concerns you have about your child’s special education services, call the Disabilities Rights Center at 1-800-834-1721 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.