Are you concerned about what your child’s life will be like after high school? New Jersey students with IEPs age 3-21 are ensured a free and appropriate public education by federal and state law. These special education laws promise a meaningful educational benefit from individualized instruction tailored to each student’s individualized needs. This legally mandated instruction is guaranteed until the student either graduates high school with a diploma or ages out of public school special education programming at age 21. Once graduated, the IEP disappears, and the student and family must navigate an entirely new system of services. This shift is why transition planning is vital to the success of students with disabilities, and why the assistance of an education attorney can help.
In New Jersey, school districts must begin preparing the student for this transition, in collaboration with the family and community partners, at age 14. Transition planning is intended to prepare students with disabilities for education, employment, and independent living after high school. Our education lawyers can help ensure that school districts provide high quality transition planning that is individualized and based on the student’s strengths and interests. It must include strategies to bring the student closer to attaining their postsecondary goals. When a student reaches age 16, school districts must conduct transition assessments and evaluations from which targeted goals and objectives are developed to ensure progress in the areas of education, employment, and life skills.
Transition planning must prepare students with disabilities for a drastic shift from following a school-led education plan to navigating a world where self-identification and self-advocacy are the only way they will receive accommodations and services to which they are legally entitled. Whereas public school districts have an affirmative obligation to identify struggling students and provide them with help and support, colleges, workplaces, and adult service agencies do not. Accommodations and supports are available, but the burden of obtaining them falls largely on the individual who must know what laws protect them, and what procedures and protocols to follow to gain access to supports. This is where an experienced education lawyer can help.
For students who will rely on adult services to support their housing, medical, and other daily living needs, the system for obtaining those services is complicated and time intensive. Lawyers familiar with transition planning for students with disabilities who will need these services can make a big difference for the individuals navigating adult services. For certain state services, there are years-long waitlists. Part of transition planning is helping the student establish eligibility for federal and state programs (e.g., Social Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and New Jersey’s Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDD)) starting at age 18. There are college options for students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) that transition planning should also explore. Vocational opportunities should be varied and plentiful to assist with skill development and generalization. Students should receive Community Based Instruction (CBI) to develop travel, social, behavioral, and daily living skills. For students planning to attend college, they too must be prepared to independently navigate an entirely new educational and legal world.
Transition planning with the IEP team is different from earlier stage educational planning. The team of people involved in transition planning expands beyond the traditional IEP team. It will still involve members of the school district, of course. The case manager continues to bear the ultimate responsibility for the district. The IEP Team still collaborates to develop appropriate goals and objectives, counselors and related service providers support progress, and in some districts, a transition coordinator will act as a liaison to transition resources. Even if a school district does not employ a transition coordinator, a staff member must be designated to take on that role. The student, if they have not already taken a lead role in their educational planning, must step into transition planning for it to be effective. After all, the student’s vision for their future, desires, strengths, and areas of needed support are the foundation for the transition plan. They will have to identify interests and hobbies to form the foundation for their postsecondary activities, recognize the skills needed to live independently or contribute to a household, name places in the community that they will need to navigate, and identify the people who make up their support system. Lastly, transition planning involves community partners in a way the IEP probably did not before. State agencies like New Jersey's DDD and Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS), community colleges, non-traditional college inclusion programs, job sites that provide internships or supervised work opportunities, employment and training agencies, residential services, and mental health services should all be identified and involved as much as possible.
If you need the guidance of an experienced New Jersey education attorney to ensure your child’s transition plan is meeting their needs, contact us to schedule a consultation.