1. What is special education?
Special education is guided by the federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 20 U.S.C. § 1400. This law was established to make sure all children with disabilities have access to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in their Least-Restrictive Environment (LRE). A child with a disability receives their special education services and supports through an Individualized Education Program (IEP), provided at no cost to the parent. The special education services and supports are provided in the general education curriculum, with typically developing peers, unless the child needs a different environment or setting to meet their unique needs.
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2. Who is eligible for preschool special education?
A child is eligible for preschool special education if the child:
- Is at least three years of age and not yet six years of age: and
- Meets the definition of a "child with a disability" under IDEA, which includes a child who:
- Is experiencing developmental delays in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social emotional development, or adaptive development: and
- Who needs special education and related services to access, participate, and make progress in the general education curriculum
A medical diagnosis alone does not make a child eligible for special education services nor is a medical diagnosis necessary for determining eligibility.
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3. What do I do if my child is between the ages of three through five and experiencing delays in their development, or I suspect my child may have a disability?
If you think your child may have a disability, you will start by contacting the special education department in the school district where you live. Most school district websites provide telephone and email contact information for the special education staff. You should call or email the district and request a preschool evaluation for special education services. To find your school district, please use the following link School District Lookup.
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4. After I ask the district to evaluate my child, what happens to determine whether he or she is eligible for special education?
The date the district receives your request for an evaluation is called the referral date. The referral date starts the school district’s 30-day timeline to determine whether an evaluation is necessary. During this time, the district reviews information about your child that you provide, including screening results, if any screenings have been conducted.
By the end of the 30-day time period, the district must tell you, in writing, if they intend to evaluate your child or not.
If you disagree with the district’s decision not to evaluate your child, there are steps you can take to try and resolve the dispute. More information on these steps is available in A Guide to Parent Rights in Special Education.
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5. What happens before and during an evaluation?
Before an evaluation can take place, planning must be done. As a parent, you must be included in the evaluation planning process. The district is required to make reasonable efforts to involve you in the process. If you choose not to participate, or are not available to participate, the district is obligated to document their attempts to include you.
The evaluation team must plan to use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant information about your child. They will gather information about what your child knows and is able to do. The required types of assessments and sources of information include interviewing you as the parent, observing your child, assessing your child using a tool that compares your child to other children his age, assessing your child using a tool that compares your child’s skills to a list of skills, and any data from Early Intervention and/or preschool provider.
You must be fully informed of all information relevant to the evaluation. The suspected disability category, developmental areas being evaluated, types of assessments, sources of information, and the titles of those responsible for reporting results must be explained and the district must obtain your consent, in writing, before evaluating your child. This information should be provided in your native language, or other mode of communication which makes sure the information is accessible to you. The results of the planning meeting must be documented on the planning form, along with your informed written consent. You should expect and receive a fully completed planning form on paper or electronically. You can ask for this if it is not provided and you can request paper if an electronic copy is not sufficient.
Once the planning is completed and your written consent has been provided, your child can be evaluated. The date(s) of evaluation should be agreed upon by both you and the school district, and reasonably meet both yours and the district’s schedules.
The district has 60 calendar days from the date they receive your written permission to evaluate your child in order to complete your child’s evaluation and determine if your child is eligible for special education.
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6. What happens next if my child is found eligible for special education?
After the evaluation has occurred, you will meet with a group of school district staff to review the results of your child’s evaluation team report (commonly abbreviated and referred to as “ETR”). This group, which you are a part of, is known as the Initial Evaluation Team. The Initial Evaluation Team will determine, based upon the evaluation results, if your child is a child with a disability and eligible for special education.
The school district must provide you with a copy of the initial evaluation team report and the documentation of eligibility determination.
Once your child has been identified as a child with a disability and eligible for preschool special education, the district has 30 additional calendar days to hold a meeting to develop an initial IEP. By law, you must be included in this meeting and you can invite anyone you would like to attend. The school district must make every reasonable attempt to accommodate your schedule. At this meeting, a drafted IEP will be discussed. You should receive an advance copy of the drafted IEP to review prior to the meeting, or the draft IEP may be written as discussed during the meeting. A copy of the IEP should be provided to you in your native language or other mode of communication, which makes the information accessible to you. You will be asked for your input during this meeting. At the end of the meeting, you will be asked to provide your signature on the IEP document. Once you sign the initial IEP, the district is required to provide you with a Prior Written Notice document, which describes how the district will begin providing services for your child based upon their individual needs. We recommend that you keep these paper documents in a binder or electronically so that you know what the plan is for your child.
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7. What options do I have if my child is found not eligible for special education, or if I disagree with the outcome of the evaluation?
At the end of the Evaluation Team Report meeting, each team member, including you, must either agree or disagree on whether your child is eligible or not eligible for special education. If most of the team members decide your child is not eligible for special education, the school district must provide you the reason for this decision in writing with a Prior Written Notice document.
If you disagree with the decision, there are steps you can take to try and resolve the dispute. See A Guide to Parent Rights in Special Education
for more information about the dispute resolution process.
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8. What is an IEP?
An IEP or Individualized Education Program is a legal document that defines how the district plans to meet your child’s unique educational needs that result from a disability. The IEP is the foundation of your child’s special education program. It includes specific goals for your child which must be reasonable and measurable. The services the school will provide to your child, along with the frequency of the services, who will provide them, and where they will be provided, are also identified.
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9. As a parent, can I take back my initial consent for special education services?
Yes, you can revoke, or take back, your permission for special education services at any time if you decide you no longer want your child to receive special education services as offered in the IEP. You must do this in writing.
If you wish to take your initial consent back, see A Guide to Parent Rights in Special Education
for more information about withdrawing consent.
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