By Marion M. Walsh, Esq., and Sandi Rosenbaum, Special Education Advocate
On Monday, December 11, 2017, the New York State Board of Regents announced that they are expanding the Safety Net Option for students with disabilities to earn a local diploma. The expansion took effect on December 12, 2017 on an emergency basis, beginning with students graduating in January 2018 and the Board of Regents will, in all likelihood, approve the expansion in March 2018 as a permanent change.
The Regents will publish a Notice of Proposed Rule Making in the State Register on Dec. 27. Public comments on the proposed changes will be accepted through Feb. 12, 2018 and can be submitted by email to REGCOMMENTS@nysed.gov (link sends e-mail).
Some initial reports have indicated that parents applaud the move. However, parents and students need to be very cautious. This easier access to a diploma could have unforeseen consequences and pressure students to leave school before they are ready. Once students earn a high school diploma, they are no longer eligible for special education services, even if they are not independent.
Current Safety Net and CDOS Options
All students entering high school since 2011 have needed to achieve a low-pass score of 55 on the high stakes Regents Exams in order to earn a local high school diploma. While the Regents have instituted many changes to expand the safety net, until now there has been no way to circumvent the low-pass requirement for the ELA and Math Regents exams. Many students have earned the Career Development and Occupational Standards (CDOS) credential, which requires two full years’ worth of work-based learning experience and commencement-level mastery of standards for work readiness. However, the Board of Regents has been clear that this document is not a diploma, and employers, trade schools, and other institutions do not accept it as such.
Current Expansion of Safety Net
The current expansion of the safety net intends to close this gap. Students who have earned a CDOS and met all requirements for graduation, except for passing the Regents exams in English and/or math, may now appeal for a Superintendent’s Determination that the student, through passing course grades and other measures, demonstrated proficiency in the subject area sufficient for graduation.
For students who have reached the end of their educational eligibility at age 21, this safety net expansion provides a clear benefit as it offers a path to a diploma after all other options have been exhausted. However, there already exist a cohort of students for whom this was the case and who aged out of the educational system without this opportunity to earn a diploma. These students, who aged out without diplomas in 2016 and 2017, should have the opportunity to be evaluated by the same standards to afford equal access to the workforce and other societal opportunities.
Parents and students should note that the Superintendent’s Determination is by request only. Educational eligibility ends when a student reaches the age of 21 or meets all requirements for graduation. If a student requests consideration that he or she has met the graduation standards in spite of failing exam grades, the District must give such consideration.
Parents and Students Should Not Feel Pressured to Accept Superintendent’s Determination If Not Requested
School districts may offer graduation to students who still can, and should, benefit from an additional year of educational eligibility. If school districts offer diploma eligibility without the student or parent having made a proactive request, the parents and student can be very clear that they did not request a Superintendent’s Determination and prefer the student remain in school while attempting to reach the low-pass grades of 55 on the Regents Exams. Students are entitled to a program of appropriate academic support and prevocational training until they have met the graduation requirements and should ensure they are not considered as having done so, prematurely.