Official says graduation changes limit special ed students

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Sioux Falls' school board president is concerned that statewide graduation requirement changes will limit opportunities for thousands of special education students across South Dakota.

The state updated graduation requirements earlier this year for the first time in almost a decade. But the state's action came with a little-known change in federal law that could negatively affect at least 3,500 special education students in the city, according to Kent Alberty, president of the Sioux Falls School Board.

Federal law will only allow special education students to graduate if they pass final exams with 85 percent proficiency on their first try, he told the Argus Leader. The law previously allowed special education students to graduate if they made an 80 percent or higher on final exams, with two attempts permitted, according to Alberty.

"It's almost discriminating against these kids, who because of an accident of birth or because of a brain injury — because of things that were never under their control — are now being told, 'You don't deserve the same opportunity every other kid in our school district, our state and our nation deserves,'" Alberty said.

The school board will review the new graduation requirements and policy changes Oct. 8 before adopting them.

Alberty called the new policies great overall.

"But you've got three sentences in here that have a huge impact on our kids who are in the special education program," he said.

Alberty said that the state can't refuse to follow federal law, but it will try to give districts flexibility. The district will have to accept the policy changes, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a possibility of pursuing some kind of legal action, he said.

A legal challenge "would have to be a decision made with cooperation of the administration and the majority of the school board," Alberty said. "It's a significant change that, in my opinion, discriminates against the kids who are already marginalized."

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com


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