School Enrollment / Early Childhood Learning / Special Education / Ages 2-4

How to Request Educational Support Services for Your Preschooler

After Early Intervention, it's not always easy for families to continue their child's services. Here's what you need to do to make the leap from EI to public school.

Federal law protects the educational rights of children with disabilities, regardless of income or immigration status. If you think your child needs support services in school, here’s what to do next:

Step 1: Register your child for school. Contact your local school district by calling their registration office or main district phone number. You can also walk into a public school in your neighborhood and ask how to enroll. 

Step 2: At the same time, request an evaluation for your child. Here is sample language you can use:

“I have concerns about my child’s development and I would like to have my child evaluated through the school system for preschool special education services.”

Step 3: After making an evaluation request, you should receive a consent form. Review, sign, and return this form as soon as possible. (Timelines vary by state: You should receive a consent form within 5 school days in Massachusetts, 15 in California, and 30 in Washington, D.C. If you don’t receive a response to your evaluation request within your state's required timeframe, call the special education office to follow up.)

What's Next?

Within 2-3 months* from the date you return the consent:

  • Your child will be evaluated for special education services.
  • School will schedule an eligibility meeting with you. (An interpreter must be present if English is not your preferred language!)
  • If your child is found eligible for special education services, a second meeting may be scheduled to determine the specific services in your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).

Within 30 days following your child’s IEP meeting: 

  • If your child is found eligible for a special education preschool classroom, you will be offered information about placement.
  • If your child is not found eligible for a special education preschool classroom, other services may be offered, such as speech or occupational therapy.
  • If your child is not found eligible for an Individual Education Plan, ask about a 504 plan to accommodate your child’s needs instead.

*This exact timeline varies by state. In Massachusetts, evaluations must be completed with 45 school days from the signed consent. In California, schools have 60 school days to complete this step. You can find more information in your state’s special education law.

Questions You Might Have:

The school district says my child is too young to be evaluated. What should I do?

Legally, a child is eligible to be evaluated for preschool special education services once they are 2.5 years old or older. But some school districts prefer to wait until a child is closer to 3 years old. If your school district refuses to start the evaluation process until your child is older, make a note of the date you first contacted them and follow up monthly until your child receives their evaluation.

What should I do if my child is not offered a preschool classroom placement?

Your child may be found eligible for certain specific support services, such as speech or occupational therapy, but not for a placement in a special education preschool program. In this case, ask about other local preschool options in your neighborhood. Head Start and the YMCA are great options if your school district does not offer your child a classroom placement.

What if school does not respond to my requests on the timeline noted above?

Delays are unfortunately common in this process. If you have not heard back from school within the required timeframe, repeat your request in an email and via the special education phone number your doctor gave you. You may need to advocate for your child. Summer is an especially common time to experience delays, so if you are requesting an evaluation in the late spring or summer, you may need to do extra follow-up.

What other rights do I have in the special education process?

The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) protects your child’s right to a “free and appropriate education,” which means school must provide the supports your child needs to learn. The law also requires school to communicate with you about your child in your preferred language, and requires your permission to make any changes to your child’s support services. Learn more about your rights here: [link to SPED rights video].

What documents do I need to register my child for preschool?

Typically, school districts require:

  • Proof of residency (such as a lease, Section 8 agreement, or utility bill with your address)
  • Proof of your child’s birthday (such as a birth certificate or passport from any country)
  • Your own ID (such as a license or passport from any country)
  • Immunization records for your child

Learn more about what you’ll need to enroll in school, and what do if you’re missing some of these documents, here.

How else can I support my child’s learning at home?

Reading, talking, and counting with your child in your primary language is a great way to support their early learning at home. For more ideas in English and Spanish, visit The Busy Family’s Guide to School. 

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