New state law sets students with special needs up for success

GREENVILLE, S.C. – A new state law passed this year gives an alternative diploma to students with special needs.

The “employability credential” will show potential employers that work skills were gained.

The program is for students who can’t earn the necessary 24 credits to graduate. Before this law was passed, students with special needs would get a certificate of attendance but not a diploma.

Greenville County Schools has done a similar program for years, but now every county in the state will have a uniform program.

“It’s a great way for us to make sure that no matter what obstacles a student might face…That they have a certification that they can get that helps to ensure their success in the future,” Greenville County Schools superintendent, Dr. Burke Royster said.

The program has helped students like Dylan Norris find jobs. Norris is the groundskeeper at Bells Crossing Elementary School in Simpsonville. He says his way of learning is being shown how to do something and recreating it himself, so learning trades was better for him than textbooks.

“He came in at the ground level, had an incredible work ethic, and has worked his way up,” Bells Crossing principal, Christopher Ross, said.

Ross hired Norris about five years ago after Norris earned an occupational diploma from Greer High School.

Norris says he was able to learn skills like grounds keeping, construction, and welding as early as the 10th grade.

The program allows students with special needs to gain soft skills making them desirable to employers.

“He also has good interpersonal skills,” Ross said. “He jumped in right away and worked well and communicated well with teachers, our parents, our students.”

Ross says he would hire from the program again.

“We felt very good and strong that Greenville County was preparing the students well for the workforce and the job field ahead of them,” Ross said.

The first class of graduates with these uniform diplomas will be 2022.

Greenville County Schools is expanding their program. They’re starting to build businesses for students with special needs. They bought heat presses and embroidery machines. They’ve also partnered with Bon Secours St. Francis for internship opportunities in areas like housekeeping and food services for these students that could lead to employment.