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Do Your Transition Planning Procedures for IDEA-Eligible Students Meet IDEA's Requirements?

Apr 01, 2013

Transition planning is an integral part of a student's IEP. A recent federal court case held that a school district's f ailure to appropriately program for a student's transitional needs resulted in a denial of a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). ( Dracut Sch. Committee v. Bureau of Special Educ. Appeals , 55 IDELR 66; 737 F. Supp. 2d 35 (D. Mass. 2010)).

Key aspects of successful transition planning for IDEA-eligible students include:

  • Meeting timelines for transition planning (not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if deemed appropriate by the IEP team, and annually thereafter) (34 C.F.R. § 300.320(b));
  • Inviting the appropriate people to the IEP team meeting to participate in transition planning and providing proper notice (invite the student, and, with parent consent or consent of a student over age 18, invite any agencies that may provide services; if the student will not attend, ensure the student's preferences and interests are considered) (34 C.F.R. § 300.321(b) and § 300.320(b));
  • Using effective and age-appropriate transition assessments to determine the student's unique transition needs and goals, individually determining which assessments to use based upon the student's unique needs, and updating the assessments and data as needed (34 C.F.R. § 300.320(b));
  • Drafting measurable goals that cover the required areas of training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills (34 C.F.R. § 300.320(b)); and
  • Programming for transition services in the least restrictive environment (LRE), including with regard to work placement.

Administrative law judges and courts may hold that FAPE is denied where a student's transition goals and services fail to meet IDEA's requirements.  In the federal court case, cited above, a school district failed to include measureable transition goals in the areas of training, education, employment, and independent living skills, among other things. The court upheld a hearing officer's decision that these transition planning failures denied the student a FAPE. (Dracut Sch. Committee v. Bureau of Special Educ. Appeals , 55 IDELR 66; 737 F. Supp. 2d 35 (D. Mass. 2010)).

Additionally, the IDEA's LRE principles apply to transition planning and services.  The Department of Education has stated that "If the work placement is included in a student's IEP, it becomes part of the student's educational program and part of the provision of FAPE to the student."  ( Letter to Spitzer-Resnick, Sweden, and Pugh , 59 IDELR 230 (OSEP 2012)).  As a result, "[p]lacement decisions, including those related to transition services (including work placement), must be based on the LRE principles and made by the IEP team."  Supplementary aids and services must be provided to students with disabilities so as to enable them to participate in the LRE work placement. Id .

To determine individual needs and set appropriate transition goals, schools should utilize age-appropriate, comprehensive evaluative tools uniquely determined based upon the child's needs, rather than uniform checklists or inventories.  ( Questions and Answers on Individualized Eduaction Programs (IEPs), Evaluations, and Reevaluations , 54 IDELR 297 (OSERS 2010), superseded by a Q&A; at 111 LRP 63322 (OSERS 09/01/11)).  Evaluations should be updated to ensure the data is still applicable and timely.  In Michigan, students may be eligible for IDEA services through age 26 which can mean more than a decade of transition planning by the IEP team, and multiple transition assessments in order to ensure timeliness of the data.  (Mich. Admin. R. 340.1702.)  A valuable resource on age-appropriate transition assessments is the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center ( www.nsttac.org ).

Schools and IEP teams should do a thorough job with their transition planning.  They should be mindful of the need to develop transition goals and services for the IEP in effect as of the student's 16th birthday, and consider whether discussing transition planning even earlier might be  appropriate.  Early discussions can help ground expectations, and keep the IEP team focused on an overarching goal of the IDEA:  to "prepare [students with disabilities] for further education, employment, and independent living."  (34 C.F.R. § 300.1.)


Please contact your Clark Hill attorney for assistance with this and other issues impacting students with disabilities in your schools.