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Graduation of Students with Disabilities – Transition Services

Accessibility, Education

By Amanda Glass, Staff Attorney

As explained in the past two blog posts, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Arizona law, IDEA-eligible students are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) from ages 3 to 21 (or to age 22, if their birthday occurs prior to the end of the school year), or until they graduate with a regular high school diploma. A student’s receipt of FAPE is directed by their Individualized Education Program or IEP.

Once a student receives a regular high school diploma or “ages out” of special education, the public school district or charter school’s obligation to continue providing FAPE ends. If a student has not met the requirements set by the Arizona State Board of Education and their school for the receipt of a regular high school diploma, the student should not be forced to graduate before the end of the school year in which they turn 22 years old.

The IDEA requires IEP teams to determine appropriate transition services for IDEA-eligible students that are based on the student’s individual interests, strengths, and preferences, in order to help them prepare for life after high school. All transition planning should begin with transition assessments. Age-appropriate transition assessments should be conducted to help identify realistic and measurable goals for the student by taking into account the student’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and interests. Transition services must start being provided no later than the student’s sixteenth birthday.

Because each student is different, appropriate transition services and goals will vary depending on the student’s specific needs, abilities, and interests. Some examples of transition services include independent living skills training, travel skills training, career shadowing, and transition-related community experiences. Transition plans should be individualized and tailored to the needs of the individual student, not uniform for all students with disabilities. Additionally, transition services must be provided in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), just like any other service under the IDEA. This means a student should engage in transition services alongside non-disabled peers to the greatest extent appropriate.

Schools should collaborate with other service agencies like Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), the Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), and behavioral health providers by inviting these providers to IEP meetings in which transition services and postsecondary goals are discussed. Collaboration of different agencies will allow for the development of a cohesive plan and a smooth transition from K-12 school to post-secondary life. These agencies have an intergovernmental agreement regarding collaboration on transition planning for students with disabilities.

Failure to provide appropriate transition services can constitute a denial of a FAPE and violate the IDEA. If a student with disabilities has not received appropriate transition services but is being forced to graduate, the student may request that the school delay the student’s graduation in order to provide the student with appropriate compensatory transition services to make them whole for a past denial of FAPE.

If you want to dispute a school’s graduation decision because you believe your student has not been provided sufficient or appropriate transition services, ask for an IEP meeting to discuss the student’s transition needs, set new transition goals, identify new transition services, and ask for continued enrollment so these services can be provided.  If you don’t know what transition services and goals are appropriate for your student, request that the school conduct a comprehensive transition evaluation using age-appropriate assessments, including a functional vocational assessment, an assessment of the student’s independent living skills, and an interest inventory. If the school has already conducted these assessments but you disagree with the results, consider requesting an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) in these areas. If you continue to have disagreements with the school, review the first blog post in this series for complaint resolution options.

You can learn more about transition planning at the following websites:

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