Rights and Responsibilities of Precollege Educators

The responsibilities of K-12 educators in relation to students with disabilities are extensive as mandated by federal legislation. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) applies to individuals with disabilities ages 3-21, who have not graduated from high school and who qualify for the special education services. Section 504 protects the right to full educational access in any institution that accepts federal funds.

IDEA mandates transition planning and services. The intent of transition planning is to engage students and parents in thinking about future goals beyond high school. Based on student preferences and interests, the IEP (Individual Education Plan) team develops student goals. The student's course of study is also examined to determine whether or not the courses being taken are consistent with the transition goals. Transition planning involves a partnership between the student (who must be invited to the meetings starting at age 14), family, school personnel, community and adult service agencies, employer, and others involved in post school planning and outcomes. In fact, it is mandated by IDEA that a " statement of interagency responsibilities or any needed linkages" be included in the transition plan. Postsecondary education, employment, independent living, and community participation are all areas to be considered.

In contrast, Section 504 does mandate any type of transition planning, but only protects full access to existing education programs and services through the use of modifications or accommodations.

Although not directly addressed in either law, work-based learning has had positive effects on career planning in the lives of students with and without disabilities. For more information on different types of work based learning and ways that educators can encourage and support career preparation as a part of transition planning for students who have disabilities, see K-12 Educators and Other Advocates Helping with Career Preparation.

As future employees, students with disabilities face unique challenges such as determining the need for accommodations and deciding when and how to disclose their disabilities to employers. By providing adolescents with direction in their exploration of interests, guidance in career and college planning, and encouragement, mentorship and support, educators, parents, and other members of the IEP team have unique opportunities to promote students successful transition to postsecondary education, employment and full participation in society.