04.10.2014
Planning for Students’ Post-Secondary Life: The Importance of an Individual Transition Plan for Special Education Students

In recent years we’ve been asked what aspects of LEA programming are administrative and court litigation targets.  The four top areas remain (1) preschool-early primary grade autism programs, (2) elementary and middle school reading programs, (3) post-AB 3632 school based mental health programs and (4) ages 16-22 transition programs. Transition programs are addressed in that section of an IEP commonly referred to as the individual transition plan (“ITP”). The purpose of the ITP is to enable students to move successfully from the secondary school setting into adulthood. The ITP must be in effect at the time the student turns 16. (Education Code § 56345.) The ITP may be developed earlier, if the IEP team decides that this would be appropriate.

ITP planning is an outcome oriented process focused on the student’s individual needs and should take into account the student’s preferences and interests. (See Education Code § 56345.1.) An ITP is meant to be a portable document that the student can take to employers, colleges, vocational schools, etc., in order to receive the supports necessary to allow the student to thrive in his or her environment.

As with the IEP, the ITP must be reviewed and updated annually. The LEA must invite the student to any meeting where the IEP team intends to discuss or review the student’s ITP. Outside agencies should also be invited to attend if they are currently providing services or, if they are anticipated to provide services within the next 6- 12 months, such as the Department of Rehabilitation, Regional Center, Vocational Education, etc. Keep in mind that your agency can’t compel attendance, but the act of inviting can help establish LEA defenses if challenged later.

Assessment

The ITP must be developed based on age-appropriate transition assessments. (Education Code § 56345) An age appropriate assessment could include academic assessments, career exploration surveys and questionnaires, employment interest surveys, or other sources. In some cases, it might be appropriate for the LEA to gather this information as a component of a student’s triennial assessment. It might also be appropriate to reap information from prior assessment reports; however, the LEA should not rely solely on reports or documents developed much earlier than the individual transition plan. Information regarding the student’s preferences and interests should reflect the student’s current plans and desires. This is the one area where LEA’s are frequently not compliant — i.e. where transition assessments are not performed prior to developing the ITP.  Our firm maintains a list of transition assessments that can be helpful.

Goals

The ITP must include appropriate, measurable post-secondary goals in the areas of (1) training; (2) education; (3) employment; and, where appropriate, independent living. A student should have goals that address either three or four of these areas — regardless of whether he or she will go to college or work after graduation or age 22. For a student who is more severely handicapped, an ITP should focus more on independent living skills, functional skills, community-based support, and recreation/leisure skills and activities. For example, the ITP might address hygiene, grooming, safety awareness, mobility, and/or social skills. The ITP must also include annual goals to assist the student in achieving his or her post-secondary goals. It goes without saying that if the nature of the disability won’t prevent employment, even assisted employment, then the ITP would address this as well.

Services

The ITP plan must identify and provide the services necessary to assist the student in meeting, or making progress toward, his or her annual transition goals. “Transition services” means a coordinated set of activities that: (1) promotes movement from school to post-secondary activities; (2) is based upon the individual’s needs, taking into account preferences and interests, and (3) includes instruction, related services, community involvement, employment, adult living, and where appropriate, daily living skills. (Education Code § 56345.1) Transition services might include instruction on self-advocacy, assistance in completing job applications or balancing a checkbook, regular meetings with a school counselor to make sure that the student is on track to graduate, counseling services to address social skills or anger management issues that might arise in the workplace, job shadowing opportunities, attendance at college fairs or college tours, or trips using public transportation.

A Recent Administrative Decision

It is important to remember that while prior data can be used to build a student’s ITP, the ITP must also be based on age-appropriate transition assessments. The transition assessments serve as the foundation for the student’s post-secondary goals, which must be appropriate and measurable. For example, in Student v. Los Angeles Unified School District, (2013) OAH Case No. 20130503219, the Office of Administrative Hearings found that the District denied the student a free appropriate public education because the District failed to conduct an appropriate transition assessment related to training, education, employment, and independent living skills; failed to create individualized goals and activities; and failed to offer any services to support the student’s post-secondary goals. OAH explained:

A transition plan that fails to comply with the procedural requirements, such as one comprised of generic and vague post-high school goals and services that are equally applicable to almost any high school student, and is not based on the specific student’s needs or fails to take into account the student’s strengths, preferences, and interests, does not comply with the procedural requirements of the IDEA.

OAH noted that the special education teacher’s attempt to complete a transition inventory with the student was not sufficient. Without appropriate data, the student’s post-secondary goals were “generic,” and not individualized. For example, the student’s employment goal was to complete a career interest survey, which the District had not completed since 2009. His community experience goal was to obtain a State identification card or driver’s license, but there was no plan for how the student could use the ID card and he was clearly unable to drive. Similarly, his independent living goal was to live with his family and perform “unidentified” household chores. The administrative law judge pointed out that there was no consideration of whether living at home was a viable option for student, given the potential lack of constant supervision. With respect to community based experiences, the District had never observed the student off campus, nor did the District offer travel training or make any other plan to expose the student to community experiences. OAH also found that the student’s independent living activity to practice locating items in a grocery store was “so vague and immeasurable as to be meaningless.” All in all, the LAUSD opinion provides a detailed analysis of why each portion of the ITP was inappropriate for the student. The decision serves as a cautionary tale that IEP teams must take care to conduct the appropriate transition assessments, and to discuss and individualize the student’s ITP according to the assessment, student’s interests, desires, and abilities in the first three or four (where appropriate) targeted areas: (1) training; (2) education; (3) employment; and, where appropriate, (4)  independent living skills.

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