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Published in Print: June 7, 2000, as Ind. Judge Rejects Bid To Delay Graduation Requirement

Ind. Judge Rejects Bid To Delay Graduation Requirement

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An Indiana judge has denied a preliminary injunction that would have barred the state from requiring that seniors in this year's class who have disabilities pass a high school exit test to receive a diploma.

Judge Susan Macey Thompson of the Marion Superior Court ruled May 28 that the plaintiffs in a class action challenging the state tests had failed to demonstrate that they had at least a reasonable likelihood of winning the case on its merits when it comes to trial later this year.

She cited evidence that the testing requirement had been put in place with sufficient notice and a reasonable opportunity for students with disabilities to pass it.

Kenneth J. Falk, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that he had not yet decided whether to seek an immediate appeal of the judge's ruling or to wait until a trial.

Suellen Reed, the state superintendent of education, expressed relief that the state's push for higher standards had been vindicated in the preliminary hearing. "I think things will get smoother as we go on," she said, "but it's been a real rocky road."

Providing Extra Help

The preliminary injunction had been sought on behalf of some 1,600 seniors with disabilities who are in the diploma track, but who have failed to pass the state's Graduation Qualifying Examination. This year's seniors must pass both portions of the test, in English and mathematics, to receive a diploma, or must qualify for a waiver from the state. ("Indiana Case Focuses on Special Ed.," May 31, 2000.) The plaintiffs had argued that students with disabilities had been given insufficient time to learn the skills on the test, which was first given in 1997.

They also claimed that special education students had understood they would receive diplomas as long as they met the requirements spelled out in their individualized education plans.

But the judge cited evidence that the Indiana education department had been conducting an extensive public-awareness campaign about the state standards and assessment program since 1994, and that districts had known about the new graduation requirement since at least 1997.

"Given the multiple remediation opportunities mandated by state law for students who take but do not pass the GQE," she wrote, "the court finds it implausible that the plaintiff class was not exposed throughout their high school career to the subjects tested on the GQE."

"Further," she added, "the remedy for any such failure is additional educational opportunity, not the grant of a high school diploma."

Indiana law guarantees disabled students a free and appropriate education until age 22, as well as extensive remedial help in mastering the skills on the test. "The judge has said that the remedy is more help, and that's what we've said all along," Ms. Reed said.

Judge Thompson added that the harm of denying diplomas to youngsters who had not met the state's standards had to be balanced against the harm of usurping the state's authority to ensure that the diplomas mean something.

"An injunction would disserve the public interest in ensuring that an Indiana high school diploma is worth more than the paper it is written on," she wrote.

"Further, injunctive relief negates the commendable efforts of disabled class members who passed the GQE."

Vol. 19, Issue 39, Page 22

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