Plan for Transition Planning:
How to Prepare to Discuss Transition Services at Your Child’s IEP Meeting
By Caitlin E. McAndrews, Esq.
Transition services are an often overlooked part of the IEP (Individualized Education Program); yet at its core, transition planning fills one of the main, stated purposes of Congress in creating federal special education law, specifically “prepar[ing students with disabilities] for further education, employment, and independent living.” 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (d)(1)(A).
States and school districts differ in where they discuss transition services in the IEP document, but the IEP must include these services once the child turns 16, or earlier if warranted or required by state law. For example, in several states, including Maryland and Virginia, the IEP must include transition services for a child of 14 years. This means that the IEP which will be in effect when the child turns 16 (or 14 in a state so requiring) must contain transition services prior to the child actually turning 16 (or 14) and that the school system cannot wait until the child turns 16 (or 14) to develop such an IEP.
Furthermore, federal regulations require the delivery of transition services through a “results-oriented process,” meaning that the focus should be on facilitating specific postsecondary outcomes, such as continuing education or entering the workforce. These should take into consideration the student’s own personal desires as well as his or her needs, including academic and functional needs. The resulting plan should, therefore, include specific, measureable goals for transition to postsecondary life as well as a description of the services the student will receive in order to meet those goals.
How can parents and students prepare for the IEP meetings that discuss transition services? First, families should have an open discussion before the meeting about postsecondary goals held by both student and parents. Does your child want to attend college? Does she want to find employment? Will he live independently? Make a list of desired outcomes, and then list discrete skills necessary to reach these goals. This could include completing a job application, contacting college admissions offices for a visit, or using public transit.
You may also consider requesting a transition assessment from the school system. This should include interviews with the student and vocational and skills assessments. If the school district has already conducted such an evaluation, read it with a discerning eye. Does the assessment identify your son or daughter’s goals and the skills he or she still lacks to reach them? Does it make recommendations to the IEP Team for development of a transition plan? If not, you may wish to request an independent educational evaluation, or IEE, so you can obtain your own assessment. (See other articles on our website for more information on that topic!)
Entering the meeting with a concrete idea of your desired outcomes will help focus the discussion. While school personnel, parents, and students alike should remain open to discussion of the student’s individualized needs, it is always helpful to have a starting point for discussion and a clear idea of you and your child’s goals.