By Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz - specialEDpost
Four weeks into a medical assistant program at Antonelli College, Nikki Mclendon eagerly took her parents to the college’s student appreciation day. The 20-year-old looked forward to discussing her progress and pre-registering for the next term, but instead received devastating news.
School officials told the Mclendons their daughter was ineligible to continue. Without warning, the career technical college that accepted Mclendon a year after she finished high school said the “occupational diploma” she’d received from Forrest County Agricultural High School disqualified her.
“I thought, ‘What? I just went through my first semester of college…. I’m having a blast at it, and you all are ruining my career,’” Mclendon recalled.
Mclendon had no way of knowing the alternate diploma many Mississippi special education students choose if they cannot meet the academic requirements of a regular diploma would be a roadblock to higher education and a career — one the state can ill afford. In Mississippi, some 20 percent of youth ages 16-24 are not in school or the workplace, the highest rate in the U.S., according to U.S. census data.
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