State honors GCPS for work with disabled students

SUWANEE -- Gwinnett County Public Schools was recently recognized by the state for increasing the number of students with disabilities who graduate with a regular education diploma.

The school system was also recognized for decreasing the number of students with disabilities who drop out of school.

Regular education diplomas open a lot of doors for students with disabilities, said Susan White, the district's executive director of special education. With a regular diploma, students are able to join the armed services, attend college or postsecondary school, and apply for more jobs.

"There's no special education in the work force," White said.

Special education is a huge continuum, White said, ranging from students with severe and profound disabilities to students with very mild disabilities.

"We have worked hard to give (students) the most access to the general education curriculum as we can," White said. "We need to expose them and give them the tools to access the general education curriculum as much as possible."

Federal law requires that students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment where they can be successful.

Gwinnett schools have increased the number of collaborative classes, meaning there are fewer small classes down the hall and more special education students getting general education instruction in a general education classroom, White said.

At the high school level, however, there are many more collaborative classes.

"The graduation requirements are very explicit," White said. "There's not a lot of room in the schedule for miscellaneous (courses)."

The state requires that all special education students have a transition plan included in their Individualized Education Plan starting at age 16. Gwinnett includes a transition plan in students' IEPs starting at age 14, White said.

"The expectations as students get older get higher," she said, "so we just want to prepare kids for that."