Simplified: The Sioux Falls School District in the last couple of years has added more options for students with disabilities to bridge the gap between high school and adulthood.

Why it matters

  • Children with disabilities are ensured access to a "free appropriate public education" until they turn 21, per the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act passed in 2004.
  • Another relevant federal law is the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which emphasizes that people with disabilities have certain services including training on how to navigate the workforce and how to advocate for themselves when they get there.
  • Sioux Falls schools have four main paths forward for students with disabilities once they turn 18.
  • In the last year, the district has seen such an increase of students enrolling in the transition program that it's outgrown its current space in the Western Mall and overflowed into the Axtell Park building, said Nikki Whiting, who oversees the transition program for the district.
"So our overflow," Whiting said, "we had to find a place ... we are looking to try and house everybody under one roof."

What are the paths for students in the adulthood transition programs?

They have four options.  

1) Students can stay in their regular high school until they turn 21.

  • This option, Whiting said, is typically only chosen when parents don't want to send their kids to another program or when a student wants to work toward a traditional diploma.

2) Students can seek services outside the Sioux Falls School District at LifeScape.

  • Though, Whiting told school board members last week the goal is really to keep as many students as possible within the district.

3) Students can attend the Community Campus.

  • This is the area that's seen the most growth, going from 37 students in 2019 to 50 in the current school year.
  • This is also the program that's seen the biggest changes. Last year was the first year the campus offered full-day services at the Western Mall. In the past it'd been half-day classes with the other half of the day spent in volunteer or work opportunities.

4) Students can participate in Project SEARCH, a nationwide program in which businesses help them learn job skills while also offering accommodations and coaching.  

  • This is the second year students have this option, and the district is partnered with Dow Rummel Village to offer seven different internship areas.
  • Students do three internships throughout the school year, and the goal at the end is to set them up with a job where they can work 16 hours per week.

Another reason these programs matter ...  

... is because they help the parents, too.

"Transition is really a grieving process for families," Whiting said. "Their child’s not taking that typical pathway, so it's not only supporting the student but supporting that family for the next three years."

The state offers a Family Support 360 program for parents of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, but Whiting said the state's program has a two-year waitlist right now.

"Many people don't realize that we serve students all the way through age 21," Superintendent Jane Stavem told board members last week. "A lot of good things have been happening to help them begin that transition into adult life."