I would like to start at the very beginning, in order to try to help other families who may experience a similar situation. When a child, under three years of age is diagnosed with a disability, s/he begins to receive services through state funded programming, provided through the health department under Part C of IDEA. These services are very family centered, and focus on the wishes of the parents and family. Our services were provided through Help Me Grow and The Columbus Hearing Impaired Program, and were exceptional.
When a child turns three, the early intervention services provided through IDEA Part C are discontinued. If a child is still suspected to still have a disability at age three (some children may outgrow a disability), then a child enrolled in IDEA Part C services goes through transition. The child will now eligible for services, following evaluation showing a continued need for services, under IDEA Part B, and an IEP will be developed.
As your child nears his/her third birthday, the process will begin with a 120 Transition Meeting. This meeting is arranged by the family service coordinator you currently have for your early intervention services, and is a opportunity to introduce your child, and family, to the school district. This is an opportunity to discuss current performance levels, concerns, testing, therapies, etc. with your school district. If the LEA (Local Education Agency) suspects that the child has a disability, a referral for evaluation is completed. This begins the time lines for transition, and is vital to ensuring a smooth and seamless transition process. If an IEP is not developed by a child's third birthday, s/he could go without vital services while the process plays out. Before you attend your 120 Meeting, review the Interagency Agreement between your school district and the county or state program providing services. There are time lines for transition that exist between Part C and Part B agencies to make sure the transition process runs smoothly. We had significant issues with our school district following time lines for transition, as outlined by law.
To me, the family aspect for a deaf or hard of hearing child is crucial for a school district to understand, because it has a significant educational impact. As parents, we make very difficult decisions very early on about the communication modality we are going to use with our child. From Auditory Verbal to Total Communication to American Sign Language, we have all made decisions that must be respected in the educational setting. I would strongly encourage you to educate the personnel you are working with from your school district on your the choices you made for communication modality and the needs you child has from an educational perspective as a result of this choice. This one area proved to be very powerful when it came down to writing Drew's IEP.
So, what should you do to prepare for your 120 Transition Meeting?
- Prepare an introduction on your child. This is the first opportunity you have to introduce your family and your child to the school district. Be prepared! What is your child's disability? What type of medical devices, i.e. hearing aids or cochlear implants, does your child use? How long did your child go without hearing? What are his/her strengths? Weaknesses? What are your primary concerns of his/her disability on educational performance? What communication mode does your child use? What current services is your child receiving? In what environment does your child learn best? Include anything that will help the district get to know your child, and make a case for the placement or services you would like.
- Read Procedural Safeguards of IDEA 2004.
- Make a plan. Discuss your goals for the meeting with your family service coordinator, and anyone else that may be attending the meeting. Make sure that everyone understands what your wishes are for placement or services from the school district once your child turns three years of age.
What should you do during your 120 Transition Meeting?
- Take notes! You will not be able to remember everything you discussed during the meeting. If both Mom and Dad are attending the meeting, have Mom do the talking while Dad takes notes, or vice versa. That worked really well for us throughout the process. Drew's Dad was excellent at taking notes, while I did most of the speaking. If both parents aren't attending, ask someone else, like your family service coordinator, to take notes.
- Expect to be given a copy of IDEA: Procedural Safeguards. This document is required to be given to parents by the school district at the 120 Transition meeting. Again, our school district did not follow through with this. Make note of this in any letters you send the district, as it can be helpful should you need to file a complaint or due process.
- Gain a clear understanding of the school districts timeline or plan for evaluation and writing of an IEP. Voice any concerns you may have with the timeline at this meeting.
- Make note of any discussion of placement or money. A school district can not discuss placement prior to performing an evaluation on the child. In addition, a district can not determine placement based on money. Make note of any references to either of these, as they will be very helpful should you need to file a complaint or due process. (Note, our district mentioned both of these during our 120 Meeting.)
What should you do after your 120 Transition Meeting?
- Write a thank you letter to the school LEA. This should include acknowledgment of their time to attend the meeting. In addition, let the letter breifly recap the meeting, highlighting the information you find most important and useful. If you do run into issues down the road to an IEP, this letter begins a trail of paperwork that can be useful during a complaint or due process.
- Follow up with the LEA to make sure that the referral for evaluation is completed and that the evaluation is scheduled. We had significant issues in this area, so it's important to stay on top of the time lines. And, again, if you are having issues getting an evaluation scheduled, continue to write letters. They are excellent to use in case of complaint or due process.
Honestly, we did not go into our 120 Transition Meeting prepared. We fully expected Drew's transition to be a "walk in the park," as everyone we know through our area did not experience issues when seeking placement at the oral hearing impaired program. I think it is important to understand that every transition, just like every child, is different. So, do your homework, and be prepared. We really discovered that (not all but most) school districts will try to wear you down throughout this process with demoralizing and nasty letters, strong-armed, bully-type tactics. In our experience, the district expected us to get tired and go away. But when they met well prepared, determined parents, they eventually have to follow the law. And that is all we really expect.