6 strategies to continue postsecondary transition services during COVID-19

Tweaking transition planning and services in this time of social distancing
By: | May 4, 2020
gettyimages.com: KhosrorkVirtual job coaching can help students prepare for their next steps. gettyimages.com: Khosrork

Extended school closures have not stopped state and local efforts to support transition-aged students with disabilities access the academic, nonacademic, and social skills needed for employment, postsecondary education, and independent living. Only the approaches have been tweaked in this time of social distancing due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Most of our teachers are having to completely adjust the way that they are serving students,” says Joy Ivester, program director at the Transition Alliance of South Carolina. “Teachers are creative and innovative by nature, but this crisis has required an entirely new level of functioning for all of our teachers, related service providers, students and parents.”

The main adjustment for transition services has been tailoring individual students’ skill-building needs through distance learning delivery approaches. Schools also are trying to determine how best to assess, document, and communicate with families and students.

“There are some challenges to online remote instruction, but there are some really unique solutions too,” says Dawn Rowe, a technical assistance provider at the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition. “I think we need to think outside the box.”

Transition services for high school students with disabilities are a requirement of the IDEA and must begin no later than the first IEP before a student’s 16th birthday, although IEP teams can agree to start services earlier. 34 CFR 300.320(b). The specific coordinated activities are individualized for each student, taking into account the student’s needs, strengths, and preferences.

Ivester and Rowe offer the following advice for the continuation of transition services during extended school closures:

1. Help families with basic needs. Educators should make sure families have enough food, are safe, and are socially and emotionally healthy. “We need to help families adjust,” Rowe says. “Some [parents] have lost their jobs or have multiple children at home.”

Educators should also determine if students have access to devices and the internet in order to participate in online distance learning. Even if a student cannot access online distance learning, educators can still develop instructional packets and check in with families via phone calls.

2. Open up lines of communication with educators. A key element of transition services is that students with disabilities have access to the general curriculum. Make sure general and special education teachers, as well as administrators, are continuing to collaborate and coordinate services for students.

“It just makes good sense to share strategies, resources, and information during this crisis so that energy, time, and resources are not wasted,” Ivester says. The Transition Alliance of South Carolina developed a statewide resource sharing portal and virtual teacher workrooms so teachers can interact and share struggles and strategies, she adds.

3. Coach families on skill building. Rowe recommends giving families explicit instruction on how to help their child build certain skills. That may include scripting out lessons to share with parents and providing suggestions for manipulatives that can be used to reinforce lessons. Ask families for feedback on how the lessons are being received, including the suggestion that families take pictures or videos of the student completing a task.

4. Stay true to proven practices. Continue to use practices that validate and improve instruction, such as the review of students’ present level of performance, documenting the engagement and performance of students and analyzing how students’ current lessons relate to their expected outcomes, Rowe says. “We need to focus on the science of teaching.”

5. Get creative with providing employment skills. Transition skills often include student on-the-job experiences that may be hard to fulfill during the pandemic. Educators can attempt to fill this void by going on virtual field trips with students. Teachers can also suggest online work experience or volunteer opportunities that can be done from the students’ homes or research activities into certain careers, Rowe says.

6. Focus on interests and expectations. This may be a good opportunity to confirm if students’ postsecondary goals and interests have changed or stayed the same. “Ask students what they want out of their education. It is their life,” Ivester says. “Ask parents what their expectations are as they are very often highly influential in students’ lives. It’s critical to marry those parent expectations with the interests, preferences, and desires of the student.”

Kara Arundel covers special education for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication. The document referenced above is available to subscribers of SEC.