After years of navigating the special education system, meeting with school district officials and teachers, identifying and arranging for outside therapies, communicating with related service providers and countless other acts of advocacy on behalf of your child, parents of students with special needs invariably face the unnerving crossroads of life… after the IEP.
For students who are seeking to transition to college programs, there are a number of issues that need to be identified and examined. There is no requirement for students who are entering college to identify themselves as having previously been classified with an educational disability. However, in order to receive any accommodations, the student will eventually be required to register with their college’s office of disability services and submit necessary documentation regarding their disability and special education needs. Colleges differ as to the type and specificity of the documentation that is required to access special education support and/or accommodations. However, what all colleges do require is that the documentation be recent (typically, within a three year margin) and that it be reflective of the student’s current educational needs (as measured by a psychoeducational evaluation, which includes assessments of aptitude and academic achievement, test scores, a clinical summary, a diagnosis and recommendations for accommodations). A student’s most recent IEP might also be requested by colleges that have separate applications procedures for admission to any comprehensive programs they might offer for students with learning disabilities.
Direct contact with the college’s office of disability services will provide you with specific information regarding the type of documentation that is needed to support a request for accommodations, classroom modifications, course substitutions /waivers and the availability of other supportive services. Speaking with representatives from the office of disability services might also provide some insight into the college’s philosophy, its student body, on campus resources as well as the college’s ability to meet your child’s specific needs in terms of accessibility issues or the availability and extent of academic, social or emotional support.
From a legal perspective, while the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not apply to post-secondary educational institutions, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as well as the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) do apply. These statutes preclude colleges and universities from engaging in discriminatory conduct or activity that is predicated solely on the basis of a student’s disability. It is critical to emphasize, however, that the requirement that a school district provide a free and appropriate education is not applicable to post-secondary educational institutions and the cost of tuition is, therefore, an important factor to consider in future planning.
There are a number of other critical issues that should be explored in evaluating your child’s transition to college or in assessing other post-secondary options. Part II of Life After the IEP will address consideration of these various issues.