By definition, the transition is a process of change, “a process or period in which something undergoes a change and passes from one state, stage, form, or activity to another” according to the Encarta Dictionary. As we all know, change is difficult for most people. For families who have youngsters with disabilities, change can be even harder. There are, by design, three separate transitions built into the special education system. This fact sheet will explain the various steps, timelines, roles of participants, and things to think about while planning. Our goal is to organize and prepare you, if not simplifying the process, while you participate in these stages. You will also find additional resources to draw upon in your approach to each transition point.
The Transition from Infant and Toddler Services to Preschool
This process is designed to assure a smooth continuity of services when a child who has been receiving services through their local Office of Mental Retardation funded by the Department of Public Welfare turns three years of age. The IFSP(individualized family service plan) that has been developed to describe services will become an IEP (individualized education plan) with a similar function. The process for this transition should begin when a youngster is 2 years six months old with the family giving permission for the service coordinator to contact the MAWA (mutually agreed upon written arrangement) holder, who will become responsible through the Department of Education for providing preschool services.
During this six-month period, the MAWA may review evaluation information and/or conduct additional evaluations. The MAWA becomes responsible for holding an IEP meeting before your child turns three although services will continue under the IFSP if that meeting is not held in time. Many MAWA’s have service coordinators who handle the transition for the MAWA but by design, their role does not continue as intensively as the 0-3 service coordinator’s role has been.
The Transition from Preschool to School Age
This process is designed to assure a smooth continuity of services when a child who has been receiving services under an IEP in preschool reach the age of kindergarten in the school district in which they live. This process is in place as part of a lawsuit settlement to assure that districts receiving students who have had IEP are prepared to meet their needs when they arrive. The first step in this process is the MAWA sending a letter to the family informing them that their child is approaching school age and they need to consider whether they wish their child to transition or remain in preschool for another year. If you wish to begin the transition process, you must sign permission to release information to the school district. If you choose to remain in preschool, you need do nothing further at this time. You will receive a letter the next year, again explaining the need to sign the release of information in order for the transition process to take place. While you may refuse to release information, the district would not have an obligation to provide IEP services to your child if you choose not to inform then of your child’s needs.
Assuming you sign the permission to release of information, you will be invited to a transition meeting with your district. This meeting must be held by the end of February. You will be asked to sign an ‘intent to register’ as well as ‘permission to evaluate’ (PTE). The PTE must specify the types of testing (or record review) that will take place. This evaluation must be completed within 45 school days (according to your district calendar). As a member of the evaluation team, you will have an opportunity to give input and as the parent, you should receive a copy of the CER (comprehensive evaluation report) and the individual reports of the evaluators by the 60th day of signing the PTE. You will have an opportunity to write a dissenting opinion if you feel any information is inaccurate or incorrect. This dissent will be attached to the report and should be considered in developing the IEP. You have a right to receive the CER 10 days before the IEP meeting is held but you may be asked to sign a waiver if you have not had this time but you can refuse to do so. The IEP meeting can be held any time within 30 days of the issuance of the CER.
The IEP that is developed by the team, including you, the parent, must detail the services and supports your child will need to make reasonable progress and receive FAPE in LRE (a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment). The goals and objectives must be measurable and the method of evaluation and how progress will be reported to you should also be included in the IEP. You must agree to this new IEP and placement in order for the change to occur. If for some reason this process is not completed, your child may return to preschool or progress to school while the preschool IEP will continue to be followed.
The Transition from School to Adult Life
This process is designed to help prepare a student who has been receiving special education services to work, play, and care for themselves in the world outside of school. Unlike the previous transitions that lasted for months, this process lasts for up to seven years. When a student reaches 14 years of age the IEP team must look at the student’s course of study and must begin to include the student in decisions about his or her future. While parents maintain the actual decision making ‘power’ the student begins to take on some responsibility at this point. By the time a student reaches 16, there should be transition goals included in the IEP itself. It is important to realize that the transition to adulthood looks at a variety of areas beyond academics. For students who may be considering further education beyond high school, vocational, technical, and college programs should be considered and goals should address needed skills to succeed in these various programs. In addition to including the student in this process at transition time, other community organizations or linkages should begin to participate in the planning process as well. These organizations may include (but are not limited to) the Office of Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Office of Blind and Visual Services. While there are agencies and organizations that should participate and may fulfill certain transition responsibilities only the school system has the mandate to provide services to students.
Evaluations should begin to address continuing education, community, vocational and life skills activities, as appropriate during this transition time as well. A student’s needs for support and education to care for him/herself and to develop work-oriented skills will be addressed in addition to academics during this transition time. A graduation plan becomes part of the IEP at the point that graduation is three years away. A graduation plan may look at academic criteria or completion of IEP goals at the discretion on the team. It is important to consider the need for related services to support transition goals as well. While it is not necessary to have all of the questions or answers at the beginning of the process it is important not to artificially limit options either. In this transition, the team needs to focus on the various aspects of adult life. Information should be shared about benefits that may become available to students as they age as well as registration for selective service for males at 18 years of age and voter registration. The focus should also be placed on how ongoing support needs may be addressed beyond the school entitlement as well as the variety of funding options that may exist.