Desoto County NewsMississippi News

Bill would add special occupational diploma option for special needs students

A bill to provide for a Special Occupational Diploma for certain students is being pushed forward by DeSoto County state senators in Jackson. 

The bill is Senate Bill 2351 and has state Sen. Michael McLendon (R-Hernando) as the principal author. State Sens. Kevin Blackwell and Dr. David Parker (R-Olive Branch) as additional authors. The measure has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.  

The push to have the bill passed comes from the grassroots organization MS: Advocacy for Diploma Equality (MADE). Passage of SB 2351 would correct a removal of a Mississippi Occupational Diploma option for high school graduates with disabilities that MADE wants to have returned. 

In the 2017 legislative session, the Mississippi Occupational Diploma was removed from state statute. Instead of a suitable replacement, however, certain endorsements were added to the traditional diploma route that made achieving a traditional diploma more difficult for special education students.  

MADE states on its website that the 2017 passage is exclusionary at best for students with special needs. More information on their proposal is found on the MADE website.

About 19.4 percent of students that are disabled in Mississippi are meeting grade-level standards, according to MADE. 

The occupational/vocational diploma will allow these students to be taught in smaller classes with a focus on instruction and pacing in areas that align with goals of our area’s workforce. 

As stated in the original text of the bill, a properly classified student who meets applicable school district requirements, will get a special diploma with minimum requirements prescribed by the state Board of Education.  MDE will develop and issue criteria for a Mississippi Occupational Diploma for students having a disability as defined by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Beginning with the 2002-2003 school year, any such student, upon proper request, shall be afforded the opportunity to fully meet such requirements and qualify for an occupational diploma upon graduation.

The importance of this for special needs students studying in high school is that they have a better opportunity for a Vocational Diploma that makes them more work-ready away from school. Right now the option of a Certificate of Attendance is what many students who can’t meet traditional diploma requirements get because of their special needs.  

However, employers will more likely hire a person with a vocational diploma over a certificate of attendance.  

You can read more about the issue on the MADE website.