There is a real need to increase awareness and interest in providing work based learning opportunities for students with disabilities in both the public and private sector job markets. We need to create a more effective and efficient private public sector partnership in order to build and sustain viable and meaningful work and educational opportunities for students with disabilities as they transition from school to work.
Although our district provides a range of work based learning options, there are liability concerns as well as concerns regarding compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act in the business community. Employer willingness to be involved in these partnerships is critical to the success of work based learning and these concerns impact the number of available internship opportunities that can be created.
There exists a basic need to explain the internship process and to create both a broad sense of understanding about what it is as well as a sense of palatability and importance concerning the program within the business community as a whole. One of the ways we can resolve this is for the Department of Education and the Department of Labor to update their policy memoranda concerning this issue. The most current policy statement from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation is a 1992 Memorandum titled “Guidelines for Implementing Community-based Educational Programs for Students with Disabilities.” It is a well written and thoughtful document and it is reflective of current law and policy. However, it is more than 20 years old and is viewed as antiquated when delivered to the business community. We must bring OSEP documentation up to date and show the private sector that the government is as interested in this topic as we are asking them to be. After all, once the social cost of not preparing students for transition is identified, it is clear that the public and private sectors have a complete alignment of interest in making sure that appropriate training is provided to students with disabilities.
There needs to be more broad-based, leader-driven discussion and communication about the importance of work based learning. The Federal government has a role to play in this process by articulating its support of such programs and specifically updating its documentation. The school system will never be successful in obtaining successful outcomes for students with disabilities without buy in from the business community. Efforts need to be made to create an understanding of where our interests align on this matter and we must move forward on that basis. With communication, outreach, and support from the responsible Federal departments, a sense of alignment can be created among all necessary parties that will result in improved outcomes for students with disabilities.
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