Job Training Back on Track for Students with Disabilities
The pandemic interrupted thousands of students’ transitions from school to work, but training resumes thanks to COVID learning recovery funds.
Students receiving special education services who turned 21 during COVID-19 school building closures have an opportunity to receive additional services that help them transition to life after school.
Special education transition recovery services are among dozens of initiatives funded by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, federal grant money to offset the effects of the pandemic.
Transition services have been required for students receiving special education services aged 16–21 as a way to intentionally prepare students for life after they graduate or “age out” of the school system. This intentional planning includes assessing the student’s strengths, interests, preferences, and needs when it comes to their work/career, and working to align those with training and related services to help prepare them.
At 21, students are no longer eligible for these transition services or special education services through the public education system. Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s estimated that over 6,000 eligible students in Washington turned 21 and were no longer eligible for these crucial services.
“We knew we had to find a way to re-engage these students to get them through their transition programs,” said Tania May, Director of Special Education at OSPI. “These services are crucial to helping students with disabilities transition into the workforce.”
The OSPI Special Education team engaged with agency leadership and the Legislature to review the need in the state and the impact on students. The Legislature allocated additional state funds to OSPI to support school districts in helping students succeed.
The funding helped districts like Selah determine individual recovery services based on specific student needs.
“Students are receiving additional learning opportunities to continue progressing on their goals and generalize skills,” said Betty Lopez, Executive Director of Special Education Services at Selah School District. “Parents have reported to our transition teacher that this extra practice has translated to increased confidence in their students in their own work skills.”
To do so, students’ Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams developed services based on pre-pandemic goals, their progress toward those goals, and how the pandemic impacted their progress as well as any changes to the opportunities available to students because of the pandemic.
“In all of our specific cases, the students attended volunteer work sites within the community that would support practice with the particular skills their goals were targeting,” Lopez said.
Re-engagement with students helped Selah’s Special Education Services team spend additional time with families, which helped to ensure the necessary interagency connections were made to support connections to services they need after leaving the school system, such as the Developmental Disabilities Administration or the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, both of which help students transition to work.
OSPI staff will continue to work closely with transition partners, including students and families, schools, providers, advocates, and state agencies to support a seamless transition from school to post-school life for students with disabilities.
To learn more about ongoing priorities and initiatives, please visit our Secondary Transition webpage.