School leaders face a “changing legal landscape” when it comes to preparing students with disabilities to transition into the workforce after school high school, according to a new policy brief from the Institute for Educational Leadership.
- First, schools and districts that segregate students with disabilities into “work readiness” programs, which may involve manual labor or menial tasks, could be liable for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Second, more recent court cases in Rhode Island and Oregon have led to settlements in which students with disabilities are given opportunities before they leave school to train for positions in integrated workplaces and not as part of “sheltered workshops.”
- Finally, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act places restrictions on paying youth with disabilities “subminimum” wages, which sometimes happens when these students are placed in school-day work programs through contracts with businesses. The report recommends exposing youth with disabilities to integrated work environments early as well as implementing strategies such as workplace visits and mentoring.
Educators want all students to succeed once they leave school, whether they transition into postsecondary education or a job. Transition services for students with disabilities, however, have historically separated these learners from non-disabled peers, steered them into programs in which they only work with adults with disabilities, and leave them without marketable skills, the report’s authors write.
“Many students with disabilities leave secondary school each year having secured neither employment nor placement in postsecondary education,” the report says. “In fact, despite significant advancements in the civil rights of students with disabilities over the past three decades, there remains a startling disparity between the postsecondary outcomes of students with and without disabilities.”
Those who work in integrated environments, however, can make more informed choices about career paths. The report highlights the Providence Public School District’s Employment First policy, which — because of the settlement agreements — make working in an integrated setting a priority for youth that want to work, rather than go to college, after high school.