New diploma gives special needs students chance to show what they know
By Melanie Griffin Edited by Chris Bilko
South Carolina students with disabilities will soon have a chance to graduate high school with job skills with a new diploma that could increase their chances of getting work.
Monday's vote by the Education Oversight Committee pleased parents like Tracie Keeshan, who has a special needs daughter in ninth grade in Lexington County.
"The work my child puts into going to school is as valuable as the typical student puts into earning a diploma," Keeshan said.
Working toward a specific reward gives students more motivation and self-confidence than earning a certificate of attendance, she said.
The modified diploma emphasizes occupational courses and independent life skills for students with disabilities. They otherwise would get attendance certificates, local occupational credits or local certificates of completion not recognized as diplomas by employers, according to the Transition Advisory Council, which works with county and state agencies to move students with disabilities from high school into the work force.
It will cost the state $25,000 to $40,000 plus local costs for work supervision, said Jo Anne Anderson, executive director of the Education Oversight Committee.
It will take a year to track students currently in eighth grade to build a unified statewide curriculum, then apply this curriculum to the graduating class of 2014 to see how it helps them. After that, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill to make this a permanent statewide option, said Education Oversight Committee Chairman Herald Stowe.
About two-thirds of South Carolina districts have some type of occupational study program, but there is no uniform standard for certification, said Bryan Greeson, who works for York School District 1 as director of special services.
The proposal for a statewide occupational diploma option will help more special needs students find work and become less dependent on state resources for economic security, Anderson said.
"This is something that has been a long time coming," said Ann Marie Taylor, who works with special education students to help them with their post-education lives.
Graduation requirements incorporate academic and work experience, including four credit hours each of employment English, job skills math, life skills science, career preparation and a semester of successful employment or a two-year career-technical program. Students can work toward this diploma through age 21 but must have first made every effort to earn a regular diploma.
"We learn what they know, not just that they can't take a test," Anderson said.