AUGUSTA — Advocates for Maine students with disabilities and disadvantaged backgrounds told state regulators Monday that proposed new rules for high school diplomas could make it harder for those youth to graduate.

A 2012 Maine law says that by 2018, all graduating students should show proficiency in eight subjects. Maine and Vermont are the only states with laws requiring such systems.

But Maine never passed any regulations to clarify what’s expected of schools. Across the state, districts have instead been moving ahead on their own to meet a requirement that begins with the class of 2021.

On Monday, the state education department held a hearing to gather input on proposed regulations aimed at giving schools flexibility for developing consistent graduation standards.

The regulators received some praise from education advocates and officials Monday for clarifying when students can be placed in career and technical education programs. But speakers called other parts of the rules confusing and said the department’s timing in summer made it hard to gather comments from education professionals.

Heather Perry, superintendent of Gorham public schools, said state regulators should be mindful that “a lot of school districts have gone ahead of the state in defining what they want their systems to be.”


“You’re going to trip over a lot of decisions that have already been made at the local level,” Perry said.

The state is reviewing Monday’s testimony and accepting comments on the rules until Sept. 8.

Jill Adams, executive director of the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, said the proposed regulations appear to take away flexibility from a special team that oversees the schooling of individual special needs children.

“Our question would be if the student cannot meet content standards without modifications that are required by their disability, does that mean that they have no chance of attaining a diploma?” she said. “We believe this is in some way a discrimination.

“Our passion plea is that we need to consider all students when we’re looking at setting a bar that adults are all setting here around a table,” Adams said.

Some education professionals said the proposed regulations — which ask districts to follow up with graduates — could amount to an unfunded mandate that would burden rural, low-income districts. The two-year, $7.1 billion budget that lawmakers passed in July eliminated a law that allows the state education commissioner to disburse funds to help school districts implement so-called “proficiency-based diplomas.”

“Schools are confused. They don’t really know what they’re supposed to do, how they’re supposed to do it, what are the standards, what’s proficiency, what’s a diploma,” said Mary Callan, program director of Gear Up Maine, which serves students in grades 7-12 in about 60 of Maine’s schools most rural and impoverished schools.

She said it’s important that the standards don’t leave behind students with disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as those with special learning needs.

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