Students with Down syndrome face many barriers to success after school. Too many fall off “the cliff” when they leave high school, with no village to catch them. With courts continuing to hold a low bar for school districts implementing transition services, it’s no wonder that unemployment for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) sits at 80%. Still, there are steps you can take to ensure your loved one gets the services and supports he needs to be successful in the real world.
Transition services start when your child turns 16-years-old. The IEP transition goals must be updated annually and include measurable goals. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines these services as an outcome-oriented process that “promotes movement from school to post-school activities” like college, vocational training, integrated employment, independent living, and community participation. IDEA says transition services must be based on each student’s needs, and consider their preferences and interests.
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The problem is most of the case law surrounding transition services have created low expectations. I recently learned about this case law during a Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates webinar on transition services. Overall, Circuit Courts have established three barriers to IEP transition services for student with disabilities:
- Courts have ruled the IEP transition process is procedural vs. substantive. This means if a parent brings a transition violation to court, most have ruled that it was just a procedural mistake and not a denial of a free and appropriate education (FAPE). There are few consequences for the violating school (Klein Independent School District v. Hovem, 5th Circuit 2012).
- Judges historically have looked at the IEP as a whole, instead of transition services specifically. If the judge believes the IEP overall has provided some benefit, then there’s no violation of FAPE if the transition services were not fully met (Lessard v. Wilton Lyndeborough Coop. Sch. Dist. 1st Circuit 2008).
- Courts have also diminished the value of transition service requirements, especially for students interested in college. Some cases have even inadvertently punished parents who advocate for college, by ruling that other services like vocational options and practical living skills don’t then have to be fulfilled in the transition plan (Coleman v. Pottstown Sch. Dist. ED.Pa 2013) (Sinan L. v. School District of Philadelphia, 3rd Cir. 2008).
Sometimes we have to evaluate how bad things are to understand how to make them better. Even though the case law surrounding transition is grim, there’s still a lot we can do to help prepare our loved ones for life after high school.
Tips for a Better Transition Plan for Students with Disabilities:
- Get a thorough transition assessment: The only place where case law seems bright is in the area of assessments. When courts looked at cases where there was either no transition assessment or a poor one, parents prevailed (Carrie I. ex re. Greg I. v. Dep’t of Educ, Hawaii 2012) (Gibson v. Forest Hills Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. 2013) (Dracut Sch. Comm. v. Bureau of Special Educ. 2010). Push your school district to complete a thorough transition assessment. It’s the only way to come up with meaningful, measurable IEP transition goals.
- Use the general education curriculum as a guide: IDEA requires, from its very first paragraph, that students with disabilities access general education curriculum. The Common Core has a lot of standards that are important to all students post-high school. The Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) clause also requires an education that relates to state learning standards. Almost all states require standards that include career and college preparation (i.e. personal finance, time management, developing and action plan, diet and nutrition, home safety, etc). Look at these standards for all students in your state, and request that your student with ID also work on these important goals.
- Use Section 504: This civil rights law allows all students with disabilities to access the same activities as typical students. School clubs and after-school activities all provide direct experience for future careers, social interaction, self-advocacy, and leadership. Students with disabilities are often not selected for these clubs and extracurricular activities. You should work with your child’s IEP team to get them accommodations and modifications to participate in these clubs. It’s their right to participate, and it will provide an invaluable experience.
- Use the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): According to this new federal education law, students with disabilities can still work towards a regular diploma, even if they are taking alternate assessments. Disability advocates worked tirelessly to get this provision in the law, because it’s so important to our loved ones’ futures. Let’s face it, most employers won’t even look at a candidate if they don’t have a high school diploma. It’s important that students with Down syndrome strive for a regular diploma, even if we’re unsure if they can obtain it. We never know unless they try, and it can help push expectations higher on transition goals.
- Use Endrew F. Supreme Court Case: It will be interesting to see new cases about transition violations moving forward in light of the Endrew F. Supreme Court Case. The justices in Endrew F. unanimously ruled that students with disabilities deserve a more meaningful benefit. It seems this new ruling could change how courts look at progress on transition goals. I also love Chief Justice Roberts quote during the hearing: “the IEP is not a form.” Parents can now ague that transition goals and services should be meaningful and progress should be checked often.
Read Related Post: Realizing the Promise of the Endrew Supreme Court Case
Understanding the roadblocks at IEP transition meetings will help you prepare to break them down. Demand that your child’s IEP transition goals be concrete and have detailed data collection. There’s no way to know if goals and services are working without data collection and progress monitoring.
Research shows that students transitioning from school need IEP transition goals that look ahead. Experts say you should get rid of any goals a student has failed to accomplish in the last decade (i.e. identifying letters), and instead focus on specific goals that will help them adapt to the real world. Still, students don’t have to choose between academic and life skills. Push outside agencies to do life skills while still working on academics in school. After all you can’t understand how to navigate in the real world, unless you have experience out in it.
What does your child’s IEP Transition plan look like? What roadblocks have you faced to post-secondary success? Share your story below.