The decision has been made. Jamal, an 11-year-old with cerebral palsy will be returning from an out-of-district placement to his home school district and will be placed in a general education classroom. But there is more to it than just changing the bus schedule. In fact, supporting a student with disabilities as he or she transitions from a self-contained special education setting to a general education setting presents opportunities to foster inclusive practices that will benefit all students.
Here are some considerations to help IEP teams plan for a successful transition:
- Getting Teachers Ready: It is important that the teachers who will be working with the student understand his interests, strengths, and preferences, as well as his challenges. Information about the child’s learning style, specialized equipment, and academic levels will help teachers adapt lesson plans and consider accommodations. Teachers, para-professionals, and related services professionals should have time in their schedules for planning and ongoing collaboration, and their roles, responsibilities, and expectations should be clearly delineated. The child’s IEP should be well known by the teachers who will work with the child so that it is fully implemented and can be revised based on the child’s needs and strengths.
- Getting Services and Supports Ready: The student’s IEP must be reviewed to determine whether additional or different special education services are needed to be successful in the less restrictive environment. When the location of services changes, the services themselves often must change.
- Getting the Class Ready: Students in the general education classroom should be prepared to welcome their new classmate. It helps to have a few peers who are willing to support the new student and become a “buddy.” The teacher will need to make sure that the rest of the class understands why it is important to include the child fully.
- Getting the Student Ready: There are a number of things about a general education class that may be unfamiliar for a student who has been in an out-of-district program. Most self-contained classes are quite small and have several adults in the room. Getting a student accustomed to a larger physical space and the natural level of activity in the general education classroom may take time. Be sure that the child knows what to expect in terms of classroom rules and routines, as well as the consequences for not following them. For some students, it makes sense to begin the transition with a partial day for a pre-determined period so he or she can get used to the new pace. Students who have been in a self-contained special education program may also be used to certain expectations and may have been learning a modified version of the curriculum. Students should have time, conversations, and support in moving out of the setting to which they have become accustomed. This should not be a “one-day-out, next-day-in scenario.” The school environment needs to be one that anticipates student movement from one environment to the next.
- Getting Parents Ready: Parents should have the opportunity to meet with the new teacher, observe the new class, and get information on how to help support the transition.
- Getting School Leaders Ready: Schools should develop a general plan regarding how decisions are made for transitioning students. The plan should address, for instance, deciding who will be making the recommendations, how the receiving and sending teachers will be given time to meet, and how the student and his or her family will be involved in decision-making. School leaders should carefully consider the adults’ schedules to determine whether indirect consulting teacher services are needed, and the general education teacher or related service providers must be provided with co-planning time to create curriculum accommodations, modifications, instructional adaptations, instructional practices, and individualized supports.