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Legislative Action on behalf of Students with Disabilities, Summer 2006

To:Superintendents, Administrators of Special Education, and Other Interested Parties
From:David P. Driscoll, Commissioner of Education
Date:August 15, 2006


I am writing to call your attention to two new pieces of legislation:

  1. An Act Allowing Students with Disabilities to Participate in Graduation Ceremonies
    This Act1 was adopted by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, thereby amending Chapter 71B (the Special Education Statute) to add a new Section 16, as follows:

    Section 16. A school age child with a disability, in this section called a student, who is completing the twelfth grade but who has not yet earned the competency determination as required under section 1D of chapter 69 for high school graduation, shall be allowed to participate fully in high school graduation ceremonies and activities conducted or sponsored by the school or school committee even though the student will not receive a diploma during the ceremony if:

    1. The student has maintained at least a 95 per cent attendance level, meaning no more than 9 days of absence from school in a 180 day school year, during the school year before the twelfth grade, but, a student's absence from school due to disability, illness, religious observance or other reason that constitutes an excused absence under the school's or school committee's rules shall not be counted for purposes of this section;
    2. The student has taken the grade 10 MCAS examination in each subject area in which the student did not achieve a passing score at least 3 times, or has participated in the MCAS alternate assessment by submitting at least 2 portfolios; and
    3. The student is in good standing, having met all of the school's or school committee's nonacademic standards for students to be eligible to participate in graduation ceremonies and related school activities.

    Nothing in this section shall compel a student to participate in the high school graduation ceremony and activities. The superintendent shall consider the recommendation, if any, of the student's individualized education program team as well as the student's own expressed preference. A student's participation in the high school graduation ceremony and activities without award of the high school diploma shall not affect or limit the student's eligibility for special education services.

    In my Commissioner's Update of May 22, 2006, I indicated that this bill was pending and encouraged you to consider allowing students with disabilities who had not completed all graduation requirements to participate in graduation ceremonies this past school year. I want to thank everyone for their attention to this when it was fully voluntary and not a requirement. We received very positive feedback about the closing activities of schools, including the flexibility on allowing students with disabilities full participation in graduation ceremonies even when they had not completed all graduation requirements. I encourage you to continue to offer opportunities to participate in graduation activities to all students as you implement this new requirement from now on.

  2. Concurrent Enrollment
    In the fiscal year 2007 budget, the legislature included a new appropriation as line item 7061-9600. This new appropriation directs the Department of Education to create a discretionary grant pilot program with the purpose of providing monies to school districts and state public institutions of higher education partnering together to offer concurrent enrollment programs for students with disabilities who are 18-22 years of age in higher education credit or non-credit courses that include non-disabled students. The appropriation for this new program is $2,000,000. The Department, through its Office of Special Education Planning and Policy Development, is currently developing guidelines and a new grant application form to implement this program. Please consider whether there are students in your district who might benefit from such an opportunity and whether there are institutions of higher education nearby with whom you can create a partnership and be ready to make application for these funds in the fall.

    We are in the preliminary stages of developing this grant program, but are committed to making it available as early in this school year as possible. Please direct questions or comments to Madeline Levine ( at the Department about this program.

Thank you in advance for your work at the district level in helping to ensure that students with disabilities are full participants in the public schools in Massachusetts.


Last Updated: August 21, 2006
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