A Parent’s Guide to High School Transition Planning:

New Protections for your Child with Special Needs

The current prospects for our transitioning students with special needs are not glowing. In fact, national studies and reports have repeatedly documented that compared to their non-disabled peers, students with disabilities are less likely to receive a regular high school diploma, will drop out twice as often, and only 50% will successfully enroll in and complete post secondary education programs. Only 32% of Americans with special needs will secure gainful employment, post graduation. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000; National Council on Disability, 2003; National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, 2005).

IDEA 2004 is regarded by many in the parent community as a roll back or retreat from the broader protections provided by IDEA 1997. While there may be some merit to this viewpoint, I do not believe this can be fairly said about recent changes in high school transition. In fact, IDEA 2004 targeted Congress’ very real concern about the drop out rates for students with special needs and the law affords significant rights for the transitioning student. To assist parents in understanding their rights related to transition, we have assembled the relevant Federal law below.

IDEA on Transition Planning:

IDEA 2004, 20 USC 1402 (34), defines transition services as a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that:

  • Is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living or community participation.
  • Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences and interests.
  • Includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.

IDEA 2004 modifies the definition of transition services found in IDEA 1997. Specifically, the services are to be designed within an outcome-oriented process that promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living or community participation.

Academic and Functional Achievement?

Congress specifically intended that transition planning team focus on both the academic and functional needs of students as they progress beyond high school.

This represents a significant shift in focus for most IEP teams who traditionally limit their planning to the academic aspects of the student’s day. The law on transition planning now specifically directs the team to expand their focus beyond the schoolhouse steps. Domains of life, not generally associated with education planning, are specifically enumerated including:

  • Integrated employment (including supported employment)
  • Independent living
  • Community participation

Necessary Components of a Transition IEP

A transition IEP must contain:

  • Appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and
  • Transition services, including courses of study, needed to assist the child in reaching those goals.

Parents seeking needed transition supports must be vigilant during the transition IEP process. For every area of known or suspected need there should be an age appropriate assessment. For every area of need identified by the team, which also includes the parents and the student, there must a measurable goal. As a general rule of thumb, there must be a least one measurable goal for every area of need of a student. Finally, be sure that all necessary decision makers are present at the meeting. However, if they are not, remember that the school district bears ultimate responsibility to ensure that a free and appropriate public education is provided. A District cannot simply refuse to provide a service because the agency customarily associated with that program does not attend the meeting.

Perils of Graduation:

It is essential to remember that special education supports remain in place for your student until age 22 or graduation, whichever occurs first. Sometimes, students reaching age 18 may elect to terminate special education eligibility on their own. Transition planning should be a coordinated activity between parents and their student. The best way to avoid premature termination of special education supports is to talk about transition as a family and devise a plan that meets everyone’s needs.

For additional information, contact Woodsmall Law Group at (626) 440-0028. Our special education attorneys are based in Pasadena and serve the San Gabriel Valley and eastern Los Angeles.

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