November is an important month for middle school students in grade 8. It is especially important for students with disabilities, both those with a 504 plan or an IEP with specific goals and objectives, November is the month when high school representative come a courting!
School Choice is the concept that gives parents and students the right to choose a vocational-technical, magnet or charter school (elementary, middle, or high school) and not be restricted by geography and the local educational option, AKA the local public high school. For many students, there will be 8-10 different high school choices! When parents and students have options, educational outcomes are usually improved because students can choose a school that reflects their academic interests, religious beliefs, or future career path. The choices will range from vocational-technical high schools, vocational-agriculture high schools, career pathway specific high schools or high schools located on college campuses, just to name a few. This is no doubt a good thing. State law requires middle schools to allow high school admissions representatives access to public school students. It’s important to realize that CHOICE is an option for high schools too!
What does this mean for students with disabilities? Allow me use an example.
Rebecca (fictitious name) is a grade 8 student in a public middle school. She has high functioning autism and qualifies for an IEP. During her three years in middle school she has matured and grown socially; her academics have improved too. She still needs an IEP but she is making great progress.
Rebecca has taken a career interest survey to help her begin the process of planning for adulthood and the school to work transition. Her career interests identify cosmetology and hairdressing as strong vocational options. Her results could be due to her familiarity with the field of hairdressing and cosmetology. Rebecca’s mother owns a beauty salon and no doubt Rebecca has spent a lot of time with her mother in the shop. It is quite possible that Rebecca may someday work in her mother’s beauty salon.
Rebecca has decided she wants to apply to the local vocational technical high school because there is a hairdressing/cosmetology program and she can receive vocational training and begin accumulating the hours and requirements she will need to earn her cosmetology license from the state department of health. Since the vocational technical school is a public high school, students with disabilities must be given the opportunity to apply and compete just as any student without disabilities would be.
Rebecca completes the application which includes a brief essay that she writes with only technical editing assistance from a teacher. The middle school staff complete the rest of her application package which includes 7th grade report card, 8th grade report card to date, standardized test scores, and a copy of Rebecca’s current IEP and PPT minutes clearly describing her disability and needed accommodations. The vocational-technical school has everything they need to rate and grade her application and assign a score to it, ranking her against all other student applicants.
To everyone’s delight, Rebecca receives a letter of acceptance to the vocational technical school in February! Rebecca anticipates she will receive the training she needs to become a licensed hairdresser and someday work in her mother’s shop.
The only thing left is a routine PPT meeting at the end of the school year to create an IEP for grade 9. A representative from the vocational technical high school will be invited and indeed does attend Rebecca’s end of year PPT in June. The representative listens to the discussion and planning decisions, but does not ask any questions or make any comments to help guide or advise the team. The next day Rebecca’s parents receive a call from an administrator at the vocational technical with a highly unusual request, another PPT meeting has been scheduled at the technical high school. It is here at this meeting that the administration of the vocational technical high school RECINDS Rebecca’s offer of acceptance! The stated reason is that Rebecca’s IEP contains too many goals, objectives, and too many accommodations that cannot be met at their public high school.
Rebecca’s dreams and vocational plans have been shattered!
Students with disabilities must be mindful of the fact that school choice is a double-edged sword and with school choice comes no assurance of guarantees.
To avoid the heartache of a situation like this it is important for parents of middle school students with disabilities to begin the post high school transition process by asking the child to take on more responsibility for their learning and reduce the number of school based accommodations that are written into an IEP or 504 plans. Beginning in grade 7!
Yes, the student may struggle a bit without daily reminders from teachers to pay attention. Yes, there will be days when homework does not get completed. Grades may indeed drop. Life has consequences, and one of the best teachers your child will have will be the natural consequences of life.
Special education accommodations under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – IDEA, will end when the student graduates from high school or ages out at 21 years old, whichever comes first. Individuals with disabilities and chronic illness will ALWAYS be eligible for reasonable accommodations in school and the work place under two very important laws -The Americans with Disabilities Act – ADA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – 504.
Receiving workplace or educational accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or ADA is a different process from that of IDEA. The protections and procedures are not the same.
My advice to students with IEPs and 504 accommodations who would like to attend a school of choice in high school is this. Step up to the plate and take on more responsibility for your learning. Practice the skills of independence by relying less on the adults in your life to keep you organized.
That’s what adults do!