Federal officials are reminding schools and vocational rehabilitation agencies of their responsibility to work together to help students with disabilities transition to adulthood, even amid the pandemic.

In a letter this week to special education and vocational rehabilitation administrators across the nation, officials from the U.S. Department of Education said that while the coronavirus might alter how things are done, the expectations for transition remain.

“Recognizing that COVID-19 has resulted in students accessing educational services differently than in the past, whether it be virtually, in-person or a hybrid approach, the importance of the provision of transition and pre-employment transition services has not changed,” wrote Mark Schultz, commissioner of the Rehabilitative Service Administration, and Laurie VanderPloeg, director of the Office of Special Education Programs.

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During the pandemic, states, school districts, schools and vocational rehabilitation agencies are encouraged to “use the flexibility afforded under the (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the Rehabilitation Act to engage in innovative strategies, involving students and youth with disabilities and their families in the transition and pre-employment transition processes as early as possible,” Schultz and VanderPloeg indicated.

Under IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act, the transition process should be outcome-oriented with students and their families working in collaboration with officials from their state education department, school district, school and vocational rehabilitation agency, according to the correspondence. State vocational rehabilitation agencies and school districts also have a responsibility to provide pre-employment transition services to students with disabilities.

Central to this process is coordination between state education officials, vocational rehabilitation and school districts, Schultz and VanderPloeg said.

In addition to the letter, the Education Department also recently released an updated 60-page transition guide that’s meant to help students with disabilities and their families understand the years-long process and the options available to them as they prepare to leave public education.

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