(The following is from a newsletter sent to counselors in SUNY institutions in the late 90s)
In recent months, SUNY has been asked frequently whether students who receive a high school Individualized Education diploma (IEP diploma) must be considered high school graduates and treated accordingly under Education Law 6304, which requires community colleges to accept ‘into an appropriate program of the college’ all applicants from the sponsorship area ‘who graduated from high school within the prior year.’
The State Education Department has ruled that an IEP diploma is different from a high school diploma in that it is not an indicator of successful completion of high school study. A student earns a high school diploma by demonstrating mastery of the high school curriculum in accordance with regulations adopted by the State Education Department. Similarly, persons qualifying to sit for the high school equivalency exam may make this demonstration of mastery by passing a comprehensive examination on the subject matter in the high school curriculum. Certain students with handicapping conditions, however, are unable to make this showing.
State regulations mandate public schools and permit private schools to award IEP diplomas to recognize the personal accomplishments of handicapped students who are unable to earn a high school diploma. A school may award a qualified student with a handicap an IEP diploma at the end of any school year in which the student has attained the age of 21, or upon application of the student or his/her parent, after the student has attended school for 12 years. State regulations require that an IEP diploma clearly indicate on its face that is awarded solely on the basis of the student’s successful completion of an individualized education program. The IEP diploma, unlike either the high school diploma or the high school equivalency diploma, does not represent passing 4 years or their equivalent in grades above grade nine; it reflects a purely subjective measure of achievement. As further indication that the award of the IEP diploma is not indicative of high school graduation, students awarded such diplomas before their 21st birthday remain eligible to attend the public schools in their district without tuition until their 21st birthday, or until they have earned a high school diploma, whichever is earlier.
Assuming that Education Law 6304 was intended to extend the full opportunity mandate to high school graduates indicating successful completion of the high school curriculum, students with IEP diplomas are not high school graduates in the sense intended by the law. Community Colleges are therefore under no legal obligation to accept such students under the terms of the full opportunity policy.
All students, including those with IEP diplomas, who have neither a high school diploma nor its equivalent, and who are admitted to post-secondary education programs on the basis of their ‘ability to benefit’, must successfully complete an independently administered ability to benefit test as required by the U.S. Department of Education pursuant to Section 484(d) of the Higher Education Act of 1965.