Video Of Diploma Bill Signing

A big huge thank you to John Young for filming this and getting it up on Youtube!

Governor Carney Signs Diploma Bill In Heartfelt Ceremony

Delaware Governor John Carney’s office was packed at 1:30pm today when parents, students, school employees, and advocates came to watch him sign HS1 for House Bill #287, the diploma bill.

State Rep. Kim Williams and Senator Nicole Poore thanked everyone for all their hard work on the bill.  Both were close to crying with joy as they explained how much this bill will mean to this special class of exceptional students.  Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting thanked everyone for their contributions to the bill.  State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson and DSEA Legislative Liason Kristin Dwyer talked about how they approached Williams and Poore about the bill.  Woodbridge Special Education Director and Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Group Chair Michele Marinucci said she has waited twenty years for this bill to become law.

But the best part was listening to the students who will benefit from this bill.  Hearing the joy in their hearts as they thanked the room for their chance to get a diploma made all the battles with this bill worth it.  One of Carney’s aides said there hasn’t been this many people in his office since the budget bill passed last July!  Even Carney was very moved about the response to his signing the bill.  He even joked that he wants the ability of the Spec Ed Strategic Plan’s Advisory Committee to get along to come to Legislative Hall!

I’ve been to a few bill signings in my day but this was easily the best!  Good things do happen in education.  I was happy to fight for this bill and report on it as much as I did.  No students will work harder than these awesome kids and they deserve it!  Today was a great example of the a wrong being fixed for the benefit of all- students, schools, and businesses.  Today, I was proud to be a Delawarean and even prouder to see this bill become law.

The bill will allow students with the most extreme disabilities to earn a diploma with modified standards in lieu of a certificate of attendance.  This became a huge issue when some of these students would fill out job applications and couldn’t check the box about having a diploma.  Many businesses in Delaware lost the chance to hire these hard workers because of that.  But more important, it was missed opportunities for these students.  Truly a blessed day at Legislative Hall!

Diploma Bill Clears Senate, Goes To Governor Carney For Signature

HS1 for House Bill #287 unanimously passed in the Delaware Senate today after some rough waters when it was on the House side.  Thank you to all the Delaware Senators and House Reps who passed this bill and recognized it’s importance.  A huge thank you to State Rep. Kim Williams and Senator Nicole Poore for getting this out to begin with.  And then thank you to the Special Education Strategic Plan Committee for making this a huge priority to begin with.

This is a landmark bill for students with the most severe disabilities in our schools.  Provided Governor Carney signs it, we will no longer have these students get a certificate but an actual diploma.  It was an archaic and outdated thing in our public education system.  Students with disabilities are just as important as their peers and the bulk of our General Assembly gets it.  And it looks like the Delaware business community began to recognize why this is important as well.

Breaking News: Delaware House Passes The Diploma Bill!

The Delaware House of Representatives just passed HS1 for House Bill #287 which would allow for a small portion of special education students who would otherwise be given a certificate of performance to be given a diploma with modified standards.  The vote count was 34 yes, 4 no, 2 not voting, and one absent.

The representatives who voted no were Stephanie Bolden, Rich Collins, Deb Heffernan, and J.J. Johnson.  Those who refused to vote were Gerald Brady and Charles Potter.  Only one Republican voted no and the rest were Democrats.

The next stop for the bill will be the Senate Education Committee.  If it is released from there, it would go up for a full Senate Vote.  Should it pass in the Senate, it would go to Governor Carney for signature.  Upon signature, it would go into effect for the 2018-2019 school year.  A great day for this segment of our special education students!

Diploma Bill Released From House Education Committee

The first battle for HS1 for House Bill #287 was won today as the Delaware House Education Committee released it from committee.  This puts the special education legislation on the Ready list for a full House vote.

All were in favor of the release except for State Rep. Deb Heffernan who voted no and State Rep. Stephanie Bolden who abstained.  There was a great deal of discussion about the bill and who exactly it represents among Delaware special education students.  Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware Department of Education, attempted to answer these questions to committee members.  The diploma with modified standards would apply to a very small population of Delaware students, approximately 1% of them.  These are students with severe disabilities that affect their ability to perform relative to their peers.

Currently, these students receive a “certificate of performance”.  Which means they are not allowed to check up the Diploma box on job applications.  They are unable to have the opportunity to apply for many jobs.  For parents of these children, as so aptly put by parent John Young, it is a resignation for their children that is very difficult to accept.

Much of the conversation was about the gap group of special education students between those this would apply to and those who receive a high school diploma.  To qualify for this bill, you have to be approved by your IEP team to take the alternative state assessment.  But that is only a little over 1% of Delaware students.  Our special education numbers hover around 15-16%.  Some of those students who do qualify for the Smarter Balanced Assessment have a difficult time passing rigorous high school courses and are unable to graduate.  Many legislators wanted to see numbers from the Delaware DOE on this.

One public comment, given by Robert Overmiller, said this bill would be lying to these students.  The Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, of which Overmiller is a member, had public comment from member Kathie Cherry.  She felt it was important to note that Overmiller’s views on the bill did not reflect the overwhelming majority of the council who are in support of the bill.  While I do agree with Overmiller on many education issues, I felt his opposition to this bill was unfair but he is certainly entitled to his opinion.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting gave the DOE’s approval of the bill, as did Delaware Autism, the Delaware Association of School Administrators, the Delaware School Boards Association, and parents.

This is an important victory for this bill.  It still has a long way to go but I like the track it is going in.

Diploma Bill Takes Center Stage In House Education Committee Meeting Today

The diploma bill for students with severe disabilities is on the agenda for the Delaware House Education Committee today.  The bill caused a ruckus of sorts with State Rep. Earl Jaques, State Board of Education member Pat Heffernan, Robert Overmiller, and the Delaware Chamber of Commerce.

House Bill #287 is now HS1 for House Bill #287.  The new changes are as follows:

This Substitute Bill makes the following changes to House Bill No. 287: 1. It changes the name of the new diploma to a “Diploma of Alternate Achievement Standards” instead of a “Diploma of Modified Performance Standards.” 2. It adds a requirement that a student must be eligible to take a statewide alternate assessment to receive the new diploma. 3. The Act takes effect in the academic year after enactment.

But the spirit of the original bill is the same.

…provides the opportunity for schools to award students who meet the requirements of their Individualized Education Plans (“IEP”) a high school diploma which recognizes the accomplishment of having attained a level of performance that is modified from the State graduation requirements but aligned with their established goals and performance outcomes.

As much as those who oppose the bill talk about why they hate the bill, I still fail to understand their rationale.  This isn’t a business bill, this is a student bill.  I think it is very arrogant for big business to dare to intrude on legislation like this.  In my opinion, they have done enough “intruding” in public education to the detriment of students, teachers, and schools.  Most of our schools, teachers, and parents want this bill to pass.  To me, they are your key stakeholders, not the business community.

For Jaques, Heffernan, and Overmiller: two of you have family members with disabilities and one of you serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC).  I am unable to fathom your opposition to this bill.  You are certainly entitled to your opinion.  But, to me, it is not a coincidence that you all opposed opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Which is a grueling task and a flawed test for any student, but especially for students with disabilities.  The majority of the GACEC supports the bill.

I anticipate a large crowd for this House Education Committee meeting.  It is being held in the Joint Finance Committee room, not the House Chamber.  It begins at 3:00pm.  If you support this bill, please come out and give public comment.

Other bills on the docket are House Bill #292, relating to services for students with Autism, and House Bill #282, which would allow extra funding for field trips in schools with high concentrations of students with poverty