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Elementary School to Secondary School

Special-Education Transitions

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When your child leaves the cozy confines of elementary school for larger middle and high schools, it's a big transition -- both for your young student and for you. As a parent, you may be leaving behind special educators and team members who you've built a relationship with. In your child's years in elementary school, you may have learned your way around the system and figured out what works in that environment, and now the environment will be completely new.

As your child makes these transitions into the higher grades, he or she may be brought into meetings more often and given opportunity to have input on future plans. The school year your teen turns 14, the IEP must contain plans for a transition to high school, including what courses will be taken and what post-secondary education or employment may follow. At that age, you may not be thinking much beyond school survival the next day, but it's worth thinking about what you want in that plan, and what your child should say when asked.

Since the IEP will be planned by the team at the school your child is leaving, you may find that the personnel doing the planning do not know much about what is available there, or what accommodations your child will need. Make that your area of expertise by meeting with teachers or administrators at the next school up. See if your high school has a transition coordinator who can meet with you at the new school, discuss issues that you may want to have addressed in the IEP, and perhaps even come to the IEP meeting and provide a knowledgeable voice.

Make sure, too, that elements of the IEP that have already been established -- such as busing, one-on-one paraprofessionals, textbooks at home, passing to classes at off-times, or behavior plans -- get carried forward into the new IEP. Make sure that therapy continues at the level previously provided, or, if a decrease is recommended, get a good explanation of why that is and how it will be managed. Include a parent statement so that all those new teachers who don't know you or your child get an introduction right away.

Finally, work with your child to increase his comfort level with the big scary new school. Ask if you can bring your child in for a tour before school begins. If the school offers a summer program, find out if there's a way to include your student in that so that she becomes familiar with the new building. Even if that program is not appropriate, if the school is open and occupied, you may be able to arrange to bring your child in to walk around a little every day.

You may not be able to find out the identity of your case manager at the new school until after the school year has started, but do make that inquiry and introduce yourself as soon as you can. If possible, schedule a meeting to get acquainted and share some information about your child. Whether you've left a good relationship at the old school or fled a bad one, this is an opportunity to start anew as a proactive and interested parent. New school's in for you, too.

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