Students always dream of the day they can leave school and start with their own life, blaze their own trails, and pursue their own happiness. But what about the students students who are impacted by mental disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Down Syndrome, Dyslexia, and potentially more mental conditions? How do the schools plan their future? According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 6.7 million students are in served through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 2015-16 school year, which is a program that applies to all students with learning disorders.
Special Education (known as SPED) is usually given to students more impacted by disorders (usually those with minor disorders, like high-functioning Autism or ADHD, can be in regular classrooms with some implications like an IEP). IDEA requires students to only have the minimum amount of Special Education needed to succeed.
All students in the program have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which the student's teachers, parents, and sometimes the student themselves, form a plan with goals through a meeting. Schools are required to make a transition plan for their students. "Even students with cognitive delays may be able to attend modified post-secondary programs if given adequate preparation and encouragement in school," say Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz from the Hechinger Report. So how does this all work, and what needs some tweaking?
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Some students who graduated from a SPED class have trouble getting jobs and work in the adult environment, or go to college. Rules already exist for transition planning, that involve the IEP team and other planning staff to ensure the best for the student. The research is difficult because a lot of technical language is used in neutral documents, and journalists only seem to get vocal about this topic when the system fails students. They provide several examples of the "graduation to couch" issue that these students face. When transition planning successfully transitions a student, Most people silently accept it. Success stores seem anecdotal, but they are the only thing you're usually able to find.
The transition plan must begin when the student turns 16. However, some students and their team start earlier. The point is to prepare students for life beyonds high school, and the child is in fact required to be invited to this meeting (Lee). The plan involves preparation for jobs, college, and independent living. Part of this is experience in the workforce before graduation. The United States Department of Education says that "it is important for students with disabilities to obtain as much work experience as possible to prepare for adult life. (ed.gov)" The guide also backs this up by statistics from National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth which says that this helps students attain higher wages and better job maintenance. Students also need to look at career pathways they want to take when they join the workforce. This also involves the work of a Vocational Rehabilitation group to help them do this task.
This service includes job counseling, work-based learning experiences, college planning, and workplace readiness if the student needs it. Like most work with IEP, transition planning requires set goals and desires for the student. "A goal shouldn't just reflect a hope or desire. And it must specifically refer to after high school," says Dr. Andrew I. E. Lee, writing for the site Understood. "For instance, the following transition goal isn't appropriate because, even though it reflects a desire, it could apply to high school: I really want to work with cars. (Lee)" He continues to say that a good goal involves things like planning colleges and careers. A better example of a goal would be "I would like to go to college and graduate to become a mechanic."(Lee) This is the main thing that helps students graduate using VR services, and the goals that Transition Planning covers.
When a student succesfully transitions, they can be set up for an amazing life ahead of them. Sometimes this is done with the help of special programs to dive into careers. One such program is called the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition. Created in 2015 by the Obama administration, it works with agencies at schools and states to ensure students have a successful transition (transitionta.org). It has started several programs, including things like Alaska's summer work programs, which allow students to expeirence a job firsthand, and learn workforce skills (Fowler).
Nevada has a program called the Nevada Student Leadership Transition Summit, which provides a forum about disabaility awareness, job planning, and college transitions. Nevada student Kasica Tognoli when asked to reflect her experience said "[y]ou [NSLTS] are the main reason why I started doing what I do... At the conference I came to terms that I needed to love my disability because it makes me who I am!... (Fowler)" In Maryland, a program was set up called "Way2Work."
Dr. Fowler explains: "The project focuses on helping students engage in paid or unpaid work experiences, aligned with their interests and skills, while supporting a student's academic success to complete high school. (Fowler)" A common theme with these programs is that they give first hand workforce experience for students, encouraging summer jobs, and volunteer work. Many jobs in this program have slots open for students, and they have a common goal.
However, some feel that this approach to planning for a future isn't enough. They describe what is called the "graduating to the couch" issue. Alia Wong, a writer for the Atlantic, believes that stereotyping plays a startling role in the issue. "Many of the public schools they attend rest on the assumption that those [disability] stereotypes are inevitable truths. (Wong)" Students with disabilities tend not only to be uneducated on workplace skills, she says, but also have low-paying jobs that nobody else wants, working almost exclusively with other disabled people (Wong).
Jobs in this category include labeling bottles and janitorial services. An anonymous parent has dubbed these "the 'five Fs': food, folding, flowers, filing and filth, referring to cleaning and janitorial services. (Burtymowicz & Mader)" SPED students seem to be in a very different workforce than their peers. Criticism fears that this will create pushing people into the low-paying jobs nobody wants. (Wong) This would create a sort of segregation of people with and without disabilities.
Also, 72 guidance documents guarding the rights of students with disabilities, some of which were Transition planning documents, were removed by Donald Trump's Department of Education secretary Betsy DeVos, claiming they were "not useful" and "outdated" (Butrymowicz & Mader). It's unknown if this was direct input from the Trump administration, or something she did on her own. Senator Maggie Hassan tweeted "Extremely concerning.
[Betsy DeVos] has consistently failed to recognize the rights of students with disabilities and must answer for this" in response to the removal of the documents. Activists believe this was a deliberate attempt to discriminate. Bill Koski in an interview for The Washington Post said it looked more like simple housekeeping than a deliberate or malicious act. (Balingit) Enough beating around the bush; how does this actually affect school-to-work transitions? As said before, at least two of the documents removed were related this topic. It put many students and parents in a panic as well. But that begs the question, what are those rights?
IDEA states that students must be placed in the least restrictive environment, meaning disabled students must be placed in the environment they learn the most and are challenged the most in. This means that many students with mental or physical disorders can be placed in regular classrooms if they are able to. Also, students parents can sue or confront the district if the feel is necessary. Many legal battles revolving around IDEA have arose since the very passing of the act.
In 2017 Supreme Court ruled in favor of an autistic student and his parents when they sued a Colorado school district for not helping the student meet his needs (Butrymowicz & Mader). Many parents don't even know that they have rights protecting their children, just agreeing that they have disabled children, and the school knows best. These sources believe that the major way to protect students with disabilities is within the courthouse.
From the sources given, it seems that the biggest complaint is the rights and wage gap that are being criticized. These sources say there needs to be more of a focus on transition planning than what is given currently. They seem to rely too much on the rights and regulations than more on the actual planning. The success stories all involve a common thing: prior workforce experience. Starting workforce experience when the student is in high school is critical, and students need to be able to understand.
Working with the student is critical, and the programs seem to be successful if the student takes charge of the IEP team and plan their future. It's important to note how critical the workforce experience is to a student with disabilities. However, taking charge, planning and protecting rights is equally critical. The complexity of a plan like this is, just like a diagnosis, one size does not fit all, and all kinds of factors need to be considered. It takes a village to raise a child, and raising an adult is no different, but as your students becomes adults, it's time to give them planning, and a preparation for whatever lies ahead.
- Last, First. "TITLE" URL. SOURCE, DD MON. YEAR. SOURCE-LOCATION. Accessed DD MON. YEAR.
- Wong, Alia. "Escaping the Disability Trap." theatlantic.com. The Atlantic, 15 Jun. 2016. Web. Accessed 8 Mar. 2019.
- Lee, Andrew. "IEP Transition Planning: Preparing for Young Adulthood." understood.org. Understood, 11 Jan. 2018. Web. Accessed 09 Mar. 2019.
- Hassan, Maggie (@SenHassan). "Extremely concerning. @Betsy DeVosED has consistently failed to recognize the rights of students with disabilities and must answer for this. https://t.co/57jQI6NrQB" D,T. Tweet.
- Butrymowicz, Sarah, and Mader, Jackie. "Almost All Students With Disabilities Are Capable Of Graduating. Here's Why They Don't." huffingtonpost.com. Hechinger Report, 4 Nov. 2017. Web. Accessed 9 Mar. 2019.
- Butrymowicz, Sarah, and Mader, Jackie. "Are Schools Doing Enough To Prepare Students For Life After Special Ed?." disabilityscoop.com. Disability Scoop, 9 Jan. 2018. Web. Accessed 9 Mar. 2019.
- Fowler, Catherine. "Successful Work Experiences." ed.gov. US Department of Education, 26 Oct. 2018. Web. Accessed 11 Mar. 2019.
- Fowler, Catherine. "Way2Work: Helping Marylanders with Disabilities Transition into the Workforce." ed.gov. US Department of Education, 30 Oct. 2018. Web. Accessed 11 Mar. 2019.
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