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La. Graduation Flexibility Law Creates 'Significant Concerns' for Ed. Dept.

A new law in Louisiana that gives teams of parents and teachers the power to craft graduation requirements for students with disabilities may violate federal special education law and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the law could put the state's waiver at risk, says a letter from the U.S. Department of Education to John White, the state's school superintendent. 

The July 2 letter was written in response to the recent passage of a law that supporters say will help students with disabilities in the state earn a diploma, particularly by allowing some to be exempted from state tests. Opponents of the measure, which was signed into law June 23 by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal after passing both the state house and senate unanimously, say that the law will lead to lowered standards for students. 

Michael Yudin, the acting assistant secretary of the federal education agency's office of special education and rehabilitative services, and Deborah Delisle, the assistant secretary of the office of elementary and secondary education, co-signed the letter, which outlines all the ways that the new law could run afoul of federal policy. For example, only states have the power to modify graduation requirements, the letter says. And allowing different standards for students with disabilities could deprive those students of the same educational opportunities that are available to nondisabled students.

One question yet to be answered is how many students will included under this flexibility measure. The Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, which led the charge to create and pass the bill, has created a set of "frequently asked questions" about the new law that says this flexibility is expected to be needed for all but about a third of students with disabilities; the state has more than 65,000 students covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But state schools chief John White, and senator Dan Claitor, one of the bill's sponsors, said in interviews with the Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper that the bill will only affect a small number of students—Claitor estimated "800 to 1,500 per year."


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