Arizona Special Education Graduation Requirements - The Facts


Arizona Center for Disability LawThe confusion over graduation requirements puts students receiving special education services at risk for forced early graduation.  Since September 2010, the Center started receiving calls and complaints from parents regarding forced early graduation of students receiving special education services. Some school districts and charter schools told parents that a new law requires their children to graduate within four years or once they obtained their required credits, even if they have not received their transition services. Both Federal law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA) and Arizona law require school districts and charter schools to provide a free appropriate public education to eligible special needs students between the ages of three and 21. Once the student turns 16, the IEP must include transition services which will help the student prepare for adult life. Some special education students will have IEPs that enable them to graduate in four years; others will have IEPs that allow them more time to complete high school. It is the responsibility of the IEP team to determine the manner in which transition services are to be provided.

Are there any new laws? There are no new laws requiring students who are entitled to special education services to graduate in four years.  Where did this incorrect information come from? The incorrect information given out by some schools was based on confusion over a document written by the Arizona Department of Education about graduation and transition services entitled “Arizona Graduation Requirements and the Provision of a Free Appropriate Public Education for Students with Disabilities.” The Center has expressed our concerns about this publication to Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.  ADE has since removed the document from its website, pending further review, and has sent a memorandum to all Arizona school districts and charter schools clarifying that they must comply with Federal and state law. In addition, to help alleviate any confusion to families, Superintendent Huppenthal has asked each school district and charter school to notify families of high school age students with disabilities of the school district’s and charter school obligation to comply with federal and state law. 

What should a parent do if they have been told or have received notice from the district or the charter school that their child must graduate?

  • Contact your district immediately and request an IEP meeting in writing.
  • Ask the IEP team to decide that your child needs more than four years of high school to receive all of the services in his/her IEP.
  • Make sure that any IEP team members who can make this happen, come to the meeting.

If you are not happy with the results of the IEP meeting, you can:

  • Ask the school for written notice of its decision to graduate your child even though she has not received all of the services in her IEP;
  • Contact the ACDL at (602) 274-6287 or (800) 927-2260 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays or Fridays to speak with our staff; or
  • File a complaint with the Arizona Department of Education.  You can also ask for mediation. Go to or call (602) 542-3084.