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Special Education Eligibility Determination

Special Education Info & Eligibility

What is Special Education?

The California Education Code (Section 56031) defines special education as:  Specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of individuals with exceptional needs, whose educational needs cannot be met with modification of the general instruction program; and related services that help individuals with special needs to benefit from specially designed instruction. Special education is an integral part of the total public education system.

Other features of special education are:

  • It is provided in a way that promotes maximum interaction between students with and without disabilities in a manner that is appropriate to the needs of both.
  • Services are provided at no cost to parents.
  • It provides a full range of program options to meet the educational and service requirements of individuals with exceptional needs in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The LRE is generally the setting that is most similar to those attended by general education students.

Special education for eligible students provides necessary specially-designed instruction, aids, and services, as determined by the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team.  Children with disabilities younger than three are served by an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan).  Special education services can include:

  • Modified Curriculum
  • Behavior Plans
  • Speech and Language Instruction
  • Various Accommodations
  • Adapted Physical Education
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Educationally-Related Mental Health Services
  • Consultation with Various School Specialists

Examples of specially designed instruction include:

  • Systematically teaching a student to attend
  • Use of pictures in a lecture-type lesson
  • Use of manipulatives in an Algebra lesson

Examples of specialized aids include:

  • Books on tape
  • Textbooks with enlarged print
  • Auditory training equipment

The IEP team, of which the parent is an important member, determines a student's eligibility and identifies any needed program, aids, services, and instruction considered necessary for the student to progress in school. The needed program, aids, and services must be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  Members of the student's IEP team meet at least once a year to: (1) review the student's progress, the IEP, and the appropriateness of the placement, and (2) to make any necessary changes in the child's program. Remember that special education is a service, not a place.  Special education is NOT for students with learning difficulties that are due primarily to cultural or economic differences, lack of familiarity with the English language, or limited school experience.  In addition, special education is not designed to meet the needs of students who have temporary physical disabilities.

Who is eligible for Special Education?

A student, ages 3 through 22, having one or more of the following fourteen federally defined disabling conditions that adversely affect his or her educational performance may be eligible to receive special education services:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Established Medical Disability (birth to five years old only)
  • Hearing Impairment (Hard of Hearing)
  • Intellectually Disabled
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Serious Emotional Disturbance
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech and Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment

Eligibility is determined through an assessment process that identifies one or more impairments that prevent a student from achieving at his or her potential.  A student may be performing significantly below the district's standards and additional interventions may be necessary for the student to maximize access to the educational program.

How does a Student Get Special Education Services?

Several procedural steps are required for a student to be identified for special education services (and for reviewing the ongoing need for these services).  These steps are: 

  • Student Study Team (SST) Meeting
  • Interventions in General Education (RtI – Response to Intervention)
  • Assessment Plan
  • Assessment Period
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team Meeting
  • IEP Implementation
  • Annual Review IEP
  • Triennial Assessment