Byline: MARY HURST
YULEE - Parents of exceptional education students are urged to attend a meeting on Monday to find out what diploma options are available for their children.
Jan McKay, co-author of a Florida Department of Education pamphlet, "Diploma Decisions for Students with Disabilities: What Parents Need to Know," will speak.
Students in Exceptional Student Education are children who have been identified by teachers, medical experts and other district staff as having conditions that limit or impair both physical and intellectual capabilities.
Children diagnosed with conditions such as autism, muscular dystrophy, emotional handicaps, including personality and psychiatric disorders, reading disabilities or those tested as having IQs lower than 70 often are placed in ESE. Children with hearing or vision loss also often enter ESE.
Melinda Willaford is chairwoman of the Exceptional Student Education Parent Advisory Council and has an autistic child. The Parent Advisory Council advises the Nassau County School Board on needs of ESE students and assists parents with questions about ESE programs.
Willaford said it's important that parents of ESE students learn early on what educational options are available.
"The foundation you lay with your child's Individual Education Plan team in elementary school determines what kind of diploma options the child will have later on," she said.
Every ESE student is required by federal law to have an Individual Education Plan. Special education teachers, school psychologists, social workers and medical personnel, if necessary, make up the IEP team. They recommend what special accommodations a student may need to accomplish educational and behavioral goals. Parents are invited to review their child's IEP at least once yearly.
Willaford said in the Nassau County School System, there are four graduation options, but the special accommodations required or chosen for the child determine what kind of diploma they are eligible to receive upon graduation.
Examples of accommodations or modifications that can be included in the IEP are using adaptive educational tools such as calculators or tape recorders; having tests read aloud to students; changing a classroom to provide a work station adapted to a wheelchair; and allowing students additional time to complete assignments.
The accommodations chosen for a child in elementary school can affect his or her ability to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which all students have to pass to receive a standard diploma.
"This is why it's important to attend," Willaford said. "You've got to know that the decisions you make for your child in elementary school can affect your child's diploma options."
Francis Flood, liaison between the school board and the parent advisory group, said he would particularly encourage parents of kindergartners and first-graders to attend Monday's meeting. …