The following advisory clarifies required practice in the provision of vocational educational services and programs for students with disabilities and provides detail on the following major concepts:
Vocational Education is Not Exclusively the Responsibility of Vocational Schools.
Each school district must ensure that students with disabilities have "available to them the variety of educational programs and services available to nondisabled children, including art, music, industrial arts, consumer and homemaking education, and vocational education." (34 CFR §300.305 — emphasis added).
In Massachusetts, the Department's School to Career Cluster approves vocational programs using criteria in Chapter 74 and the Perkins Act definition of vocational and technical education. Yet, the federal special education regulations contain a more expansive definition of vocational education that includes, but is not limited to, these Department-approved vocational programs. Vocational education was specifically included as part of the special education law to ensure that students with disabilities receive, if needed, appropriate, individually-designed vocational educational services to assist them in transitioning from school to adult life and work.
Definitions of Vocational Education:
The Massachusetts Special Education regulations also require all school districts to have a variety of program options available specifically for older student with disabilities in order to prepare these students for adult life. "Such options shall include continuing education; developing skills to access community services; developing independent living skills; developing skills for self-management of medical needs; and developing skills necessary for seeking, obtaining, and maintaining jobs. Such programs may have an educational and/or vocational focus . . ." (603 CMR §28.06(4)).
In short, the requirement for students with disabilities to participate in vocational educational experiences is not a requirement related solely to vocational schools in Massachusetts, but rather, is part and parcel of including students with disabilities in the full life of the school.
Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities must address vocational education needs and services based solely on the individual needs of the student.
When considering skill development related to vocational preparation or experience for students with disabilities, IEP Teams do not use the Perkins Act definition for vocational education. The IEP Team does not limit its consideration to Department-approved vocational programs. In fact, IEP Teams, when developing the IEP, are not considering standard approved vocational programs at all, rather, IEP Teams consider the types of skills needed by the student to prepare for vocational activities or experience needed for independence in seeking adult career or work opportunities.
Vocational needs, like needs for math instruction or for reading instruction, should not automatically result in services solely because the student has reached a certain age. For students with disabilities, the IEP is intended to address needs that arise because of the student's disability(ies). Any, all, or perhaps none of the following career exploration and career skill development activities could, therefore, be considered as necessary educational services depending upon the nature of the student's disability and resultant educational needs:
Many students with disabilities will participate in vocational offerings in the same manner their nondisabled peers do because their disabilities do not affect their progress in this area of the general program. In these cases, skill development related to vocational preparation or experience is not identified as an educational need area and these students should continue to have access to vocational or vocationally related programs as appropriate to their interests and needs just as non-disabled students do.
IEP teams do not have authority to make placements in vocational schools.
For older students (usually starting at age 14), the IEP Team will consider if the student's disability(ies) affects participation in areas of education directly related to preparation for adult life. The IEP Team may identify that vocational educational services are an area of need by checking "Skill development related to vocational preparation or experience" under Other Educational Needs on IEP page 3. By doing so, IEP Teams are asserting that the student's disability(ies) has an effect in this area. Then, based on assessment information, Teams must describe the impact of the disability and must indicate needed accommodation(s) and/or services. Identification of this educational need is unrelated to admissions to vocational schools.
IEP Teams have no authority to make educational placements to vocational schools. As in all other circumstances, once the IEP is developed, the educational placement should be chosen to implement the identified IEP services required and should be chosen from a full continuum of educational placement options. Placement options include the general education classroom, a resource room, a substantially separate classroom, a separate special education day school or a separate special education residential school (none of these options are synonymous with a vocational school).
If the student is subsequently admitted to a vocational school, that vocational school serves as the "school district" for the student and provides the services in the placement that the Team has identified. If the student is not admitted to a vocational school, then the public school district provides the services and placement identified by the Team.
Public school districts must address needs related to vocational preparation or experience.
When students have not been admitted to a vocational school, then the public school district must provide any needed vocational educational services that are identified on the student's IEP. School districts must not rely solely on programs and services available within vocational schools to meet the vocational educational needs of students with disabilities.
For instance, if, in a comprehensive high school, an internship program is available to any interested students in grades 11 and 12, and a student's IEP has identified "work experience" as an IEP goal for the student, that student should be considered for participation in the internship program. If supplementary aids and services are necessary for such participation, they should be provided. If, however, no existing programs and services meet the students' unique needs, secondary school personnel will need to create new service options to fulfill the student's need for "work experience." The secondary school is not obligated to create the same work experience program that is present in a vocational school, but rather must consider how to give the student access to meaningful work experience. Work experience may be obtained through working in a school office or in a community program or may be simulated in classroom environment or through any number of other options. It is not permissible; however, to simply ignore this vocational educational need because the student is not enrolled in a vocational school.
Vocational schools must provide appropriate education and special education services.
Vocational schools must fully and carefully consider the provision of supplemental aids and services to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the same program options available to students without disabilities. The vocational school must ensure that students with disabilities are not removed or excluded from programs within the school solely because of needed curriculum modifications. This requirement under federal special education regulation pertains to any part of the student's program whether vocational or academic in nature.
Vocational schools may not assume that a student with a disability must "earn" the right to participate in all of the schools programs and services, rather, the school must assume that the student with a disability participates in the same manner as students without disabilities. It is the responsibility of the IEP Team to determine how the disability affects the student's participation and when or if supplementary aids or services are necessary to assist the student to participate effectively or if removal from one or more of the vocational offerings is necessary.
In closing, we hope this information is helpful to districts and vocational schools in ensuring that local practices are consistent with special education requirements for the provision of vocational education services to eligible students with disabilities. If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Program Quality Assurance Services at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (781-338-3700).
Thank you for your attention to this memorandum and for assuring that students with disabilities receive appropriate services.
* The term "vocational schools" will be used throughout this advisory to refer to vocational schools, technical schools, and other public selective secondary schools providing vocational education services.
Last Updated: March 8, 2002
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906
Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370
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