ST. JOHN, Ind. — Students completing special education high school programs in Northwest Indiana will soon begin receiving a diploma that actually has the word “diploma” on it.
Thank recent changes by the Indiana Department of Education.
Previously, students with significant cognitive disabilities who completed a special education high school program received a “certificate of completion.” The Department of Education amended its graduation requirements, so those students can now earn an “alternate diploma.”
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“Those of us in special education didn’t love the certificate of completion,” said Rebecca Gromala, director of special education for Lake Central School Corp. “There wasn’t a lot of weight to it.”
Gromala and LCSC — as well as other school districts in Northwest Indiana — plan to begin granting these diplomas to students in May. The Department of Education first began notifying districts about the change in January, so many are still formulating their plans for graduation.
With a certificate of completion, it is largely up to individual school districts to define what students have to do to earn it.
The new diploma has a set of defined criteria and requirements set forth by the state: Students must earn 40 credits or applied units — credits are what general-education students earn in their coursework; applied units are special education-specific courses — or a combination of the two and complete a work-based job-training program, such as an industry certification or a part-time job.
“It will really, we hope, give them some more options for employability after high school,” Gromala said.
“The number one thing we’ve heard from parents is, they wanted students to have a diploma, so that being part of the name, I think, is really important,” she said. “We also feel it sort of honors the work that the students are putting in.
“Before, without having specific criteria for that certificate of completion, it didn’t really demonstrate the hard work our students are putting in during the time they spend with us. So now they’ll be able to, just like every other student, say ‘I did X, Y and Z, and that earned me a diploma.’”
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