Decatur Schools waive graduation requirements for special needs students

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 15, 2015
The front steps of Decatur High School. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The front steps of Decatur High School. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

While City Schools of Decatur’s High School receives consistently high marks for student achievement, its rigorous standards have left some students with disabilities students behind.

During its meeting on Oct. 13, School Board members sought to rectify the problem by waiving certain graduation requirements for these students.

The vote came after lengthy and emotional testimony about how Decatur’s standards have kept some special needs students in High School well into their 20’s. According to a memo attached to the board agenda, the graduation rate for students with disabilities is 45 percent. But these students would be able to graduate under the state’s diploma requirements, the board agenda says.

CSD requires two additional courses beyond what the state requires: one science and one social studies. Students who fall behind are often stuck with taking two science courses in the same year at the expense of extra-curricular activities and other classes that could help them find gainful employment after high school, CSD staffers said during the School Board meeting. The waiver allows students with disabilities at CSD to meet the state requirements for graduation.

The board unanimously approved the new policy.


In other business:

– Board members agreed to hire a Residency Enrollment Assistant with a salary range of $30,000 to $40,000 to tackle questions about student residency. As student enrollment has increased, so have questions about where students live.

School Board members agreed that the potential savings of rooting out students who aren’t supposed to enroll in CSD would be more than the cost of hiring the new employee.

“It’s only fair to our students and taxpayers,” School Board member Julie Rhame said. “That’s why I have no tolerance when we come to this.”

– Board members approved a change order for a construction project at the high school.

The original project budget was $12.5 million, but changes to the project are increasing the total budget by $281,700, according to documents attached to a recent work session agenda.

“These updates are driven primarily by two factors,” Chief Operating Officer Noel Maloof wrote in a memo to the School Board. “First, we had to address unsuitable soil conditions at the upper parking lot construction site. Not long after the start of construction, these unforeseen soil conditions were encountered. These soil conditions were between 3 and 5 feet of topsoil that had to be removed as it is was not suitable soil for use as a base for a Parking Lot. This additional cost was $113, 784.00. Second, after review of the Life Safety Egress requirements of the existing Main Building, design modifications to the Phase 1 Addition were necessary to achieve approval of the City of Decatur Fire Marshall and permitting department.”

School Board Chairman Garrett Goebel said the project will still have a $150,000 contingency fund for any additional increases.


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  • Dec30030 Teacher

    While I agree that some of our special needs students need flexibility, the state requires 4 science credits and 3 social studies credits, beginning with students who entered in 2008-2009 school year per the following state board policy:

    The documentation provided on the board agenda did not appear to reference the state policy, just stated it was 3 for science, which is not correct.

  • Nancy Wilkinson

    Regarding the “unforeseen soil conditions,” it’s a little disturbing that the construction project folks didn’t realize that the community garden that is now covered by the parking lot would have several feet of topsoil in it. That’s a pretty basic requirement for a garden. I hope they don’t run into any other “duh” problems.

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