To access special education for a 5-22 year old child in public school, you need to make a referral to the principal or school psychologist. If your child attends private school, charter school, or is not enrolled, you should send your referral to the Committee on Special Education for the district where the child lives. Learn more about how to get your child special education services, and what to expect in the process.
Referrals for school-age children (ages 5-22) who attend public school must be made in writing to the principal or the school psychologist. Referrals for school-age children who attend private schools, charter schools, or who are not enrolled should be sent to the Committee on Special Education (CSE) for the district where the child lives. A list of CSE office contact information can be found here.
The referral should list the child’s name, date of birth and address, and should contain contact information for the child’s parents. It should also talk about any specific concerns you have about the child’s development.
After a referral is made, the school or the CSE will set up an appointment for the parent or guardian to sign consent for evaluations. The school or the CSE will evaluate the child. When the evaluations are done, there will be a meeting to write an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP describes the services that the child needs.
The Department of Education has 60 school days from the date the child’s parent signs consent to evaluate the child and put all services in place.
School-age children receive the following evaluations:
The parent or person who made the referral can ask for other evaluations such as Speech and Language, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Psychiatric Evaluation, Functional Behavior Assessment, etc.
Children are eligible for school-age special education services starting in September of the year they turn 5 until the end of the school year in which they turn 22 if they have one of the disabilities listed below and that disability affects their learning.
Students with disabilities must be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). That means that to the greatest extent possible, children with disabilities must be educated in the same classrooms as children who are not disabled. Children with disabilities should not be placed in separate classes or separate schools unless that is the only way they can learn. The Department of Education offers a variety of different special education services, from least restrictive to most restrictive. These options may be combined to create an IEP that meets the student’s needs:
If a child needs speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling or another related service and the school cannot provide it, ask for a Related Service Agreement (RSA). The RSA is a voucher that allows the child to get the service from a private provider after school hours.
If the child needs Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) and the school cannot provide it, ask for a P3 Letter. A P3 Letter is a voucher that allows the child to get the service from a private provider after school hours.
If a child needs a ICT class (also known as a Collaborative Team Teaching class) and the Department of Education does not provide one within 60 school days, the child is eligible to receive 2 periods per day of SETSS (either in school or through a P3 Letter) until a placement is found.
If a child needs a special class in a community school or a special class in a specialized school and the Department of Education does not provide one within 60 school days, the child is eligible to receive a Nickerson (P1-R) letter. A Nickerson letter is a voucher that allows a child to attend a state-approved non-public school for one year. The Department of Education pays the tuition at the non-public school. The family is responsible for sending application packets to schools and arranging for interviews.
The information in this document has been prepared by The Legal Aid Society for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information without retaining professional legal counsel.
Last Updated: 6 November 2023
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