Basic Steps for Receiving Special Education Services

Basic Steps for Receiving Special Education Services in Connecticut

For additional information about each step in the process of receiving special education services in Connecticut, click on the step and view the corresponding list of frequently asked questions and answers.

Step 1: Child Find

How does the Child Find process work?
Local school districts are responsible for identifying children with disabilities who live in their town. A school team talks with parents about how they see their child learn, talk, move and play, etc. After an initial "screening," the school district staff talks with the parents to see if they agree that their child should have a full evaluation. If needed, a full evaluation is done at home, school or another community setting.

When should the local school district be contacted?
The child's school district should be called if there is concern that a child's development is off track, if the child's doctor says the child is behind in development, if the child was born prematurely, if the child is not doing well in school and it is not obvious why, or if others express concern about the child.

Is the process the same for infants and toddlers as it is for school-aged children?
The process is basically the same. A school-aged child (3-21 years-old) will probably have the evaluation at school, but could be evaluated in another community setting. Children who are already in public school will be referred to a school based team. This team will develop and implement strategies to help the child be successful in the school setting before a formal request for evaluation is done. Infants and toddlers (0-36 months) most likely are evaluated at home or in another community setting. In Connecticut, Birth-to-Three is responsible for processing referrals for evaluations for children under the age of three.

How long does it take for the evaluation to occur after someone contacts Child Find?
For children over three and younger than 21, the school district has 45 school days to complete the evaluation process and determine whether or not a child is eligible for special education services. This 45-day timeline starts when the written referral is received by school personnel.

How will this help the child?
The screening and evaluation done by the school helps parents and teachers better understand the child and how the child learns. The team, with input from the child's parents, share ideas for home and school and if necessary, can help find additional services or resources for the child.

Do you have to get parents' permission before you call the school about a child?
Not necessarily, but the person who referred the child should inform the parents. Sometimes teams do screenings at pre-schools and out in the community. They can do screenings without parents' permission. However, the Planning and Placement Team (PPT) cannot conduct an evaluation without the parents' consent. It's up to the parents to accept or refuse any services that are offered. Additionally, information gained through the Child Find process will not be shared with other governmental or private agencies without the parents' permission.

What is the cost of Child Find services?
The Child Find screening and/or evaluation for children birth to 21 is free. The local school district pays the cost whether they conduct the evaluation themselves or whether they pay another agency to conduct the evaluation.

What if the child or parents do not speak English or are not U.S. citizens?
The school district will do the screening or evaluation and provide an interpreter in the family's native language at no cost. It is the district's responsibility to include all children in the Child Find process even if their parents are not U.S. citizens.

Step 2: Referral

Who makes the referral to special education?
A referral to special education may be made by:

  • A parent, guardian or surrogate parent
  • Referral sources: primary care physicians, pediatricians, social workers to whom parental permission to make a referral has been given
  • School personnel

How is a referral made in Connecticut?
Standard referral form ED621 documents referrals to special education. This form is available at the special education department in each of the local schools. It can also be found online at WEBSITE. Concerned parents, school personnel or referral sources may complete the form and submit it to the school administrator to initiate the Planning and Placement Team process. Parents can also write a letter indicating concerns. The letter should include pre-referral interventions and their results as well as specific reasons for the referral to special education.

What if my child hasn't started school yet, but I suspect a disability may exist?
If a child is less than three years old and it is suspected that he or she may have a disability or significant delays, the child may be referred to the Connecticut Birth to Three System for a free evaluation. If the child is over the age of three, the child may be referred by submitting the referral form or sending a letter to the special education director in the local school district.

When is a referral to special education considered?
Referrals to special education are considered when alternative procedures, programs and interventions in general education have been explored for a struggling student with minimum success in the classroom and the child continues to have difficulties. In addition, a prompt referral is required for any child who has been suspended repeatedly or whose behavior, attendance or progress in school is considered unsatisfactory or at a marginal level of acceptance.

Step 3: Planning and Placement Team Process

What is a Planning and Placement Team (PPT)?
A PPT is a composed of certified and / or licensed professionals who represent:

  • The child's regular education teacher
  • At least one special education teacher
  • An individual who can interpret evaluation results
  • Administrative and pupil personnel staff at the child's school
  • Parent (s) of the child
  • Other persons knowledgeable about the child's development, academic achievement or functional performance
  • If appropriate, the child

Members come together at PPT meetings to make decisions about evaluation procedures and the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP). All team members participate equally in the decision making process.

What should I know about the first PPT meeting?

  • Parents should receive written notification at least five days prior to the PPT meeting.
  • The initial PPT meeting will document the referral to special education and will discuss the evaluation and identification process.
  • The team will look at information that is already available about how the child is doing in school and will decide whether additional information is needed.
  • Parents should receive procedural safeguards in their native language or mode of communication upon initial referral or request for evaluation.

What type of information is needed at the first PPT meeting?

  • Parent ideas and concerns about the child's school experiences, abilities, needs and behavior
  • Classroom observations and scores on tests given in the classroom and on any state tests, such as the Connecticut Mastery Test
  • Observations from related services providers, such as a school psychologist, occupational therapist, speech therapist or physical therapist

What are parents' rights at the PPT meeting?
Parent involvement is crucial to the process of identifying and evaluating students with disabilities and ensuring that they receive a free appropriate public education. The school district must take any action necessary to make sure that the parents of a child referred for special education understand the proceedings and their rights at the PPT meeting.

The school district is responsible for arranging a translator for parents with deafness or whose native language is not English. Additionally, a PPT meeting must be scheduled at a mutually agreed upon time and place. If neither parent can attend the meeting, the district must make reasonable efforts to use other methods to ensure parent participation, including conference calls.

What is the parents' role at the PPT meeting?
Parents may feel overwhelmed when they attend a PPT meeting. Time may pass quickly and they may feel rushed. In addition, special education terminology can be hard to understand. Yet parents are supposed to be equal participants in the meeting.

To ensure that they are fully involved in the PPT process, parents can prepare for the initial PPT meeting by:

  • Becoming familiar with state and federal special education laws by calling CPAC.
  • Bringing documentation of need from any outside sources, for example a pediatrician.
  • Bringing samples of the child's work that says something about the child and supports the parents' concerns. These could be samples from out-of-school activities as well as school work.
  • Finding out who will be attending the meeting.
  • Preparing to share what they know about their child. For help with this, fill out the Positive Student Profile.

What are possible outcomes of the initial PPT meeting?
After reviewing the information about the child, the PPT may decide that an evaluation is not needed and that the regular education program and services are appropriate. If, on the other hand, the PPT needs further information to determine whether or not the child has a disability and is in need of special education, then the PPT plans the initial evaluation.

Step 4: Evaluation

What is an initial evaluation?
An initial evaluation is a set of procedures used by the school district to determine whether a student has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education services that the student needs. An initial evaluation is required to determine if the child has a disability, and to measure the academic and functional performance and the educational needs of the child.

Do parents need to sign consent for an initial evaluation?
Yes, if the school district determines that an initial evaluation for eligibility is necessary, then the federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires the school district to provide notice and obtain informed parental consent. Consent forms include:

  • A statement of parents' rights to refuse consent and that, if given, it may be revoked at any time
  • A statement that parental failure to respond within ten school days from the date of the notice shall be interpreted as refusal of consent
  • A statement that, if contested, a student's current educational placement will not change until due process procedures are completed

What happens if parents refuse consent to evaluate?
If parents refuse or withdraw consent for an initial evaluation, the school district may continue to pursue it by using due process or mediation. If the hearing officer upholds the school district's decision, the school district may evaluate the child. However, if the parent does not respond to a request to provide consent for the initial provision of special education services, then the school district cannot use due process or mediation.

What are the evaluation requirements under IDEA?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to conduct an evaluation that:

  • Uses a variety of procedures, tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental and academic information (including information provided by the parent)
  • Evaluates the child in all areas in which a disability is suspected, including if appropriate: health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status and motor abilities
  • Evaluates in the native language of the child (for example, Spanish) or other means of communication (for example, sign language, if the child is deaf), unless it is clearly impossible to do so
  • Is non-discriminatory against the child because he or she has a disability or is from a different racial or cultural background
  • Uses evaluation tools and strategies that provide relevant information that directly support decisions about the educational needs of the child and that determine the roles that cognitive, behavioral, physical, and/or developmental factors are playing in the child's difficulties

What is the evaluation timeline in Connecticut?
Connecticut state regulations allow the school district 45 school days from the date of referral to the implementation of the IEP. The Connecticut State Department of Education has determined that the 45 school-day timeline begins after a local educational agency receives a signed, completed referral form or written letter requesting a referral.

What happens if the parents disagree with evaluation results?
Parents may request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at the district's expense if they disagree with an evaluation that was conducted by the district. In response, the district may:

  • file a due process complaint to request a hearing to show that the district's evaluation is appropriate
  • ensure that an IEE is provided at the district's expense, unless the agency demonstrates in a hearing that the evaluation obtained by the parent did not meet agency criteria

Tips for Parents
Children with disabilities benefit more from their education if their parents are involved and well informed. Parents must be active members of the evaluation process by understanding the special education process and their rights. Parents have the right to receive a copy of the evaluation report at no cost. It is recommended that parents read this report carefully and ask for further explanation to be able to interpret the evaluation report and to make educated decisions at the PPT meetings. Request a copy of the evaluation report prior to the PPT meeting.

Step 5: Eligibility

What is the eligibility criterion for special education in Connecticut?
To be eligible to receive special education and related services in Connecticut, the child must be found to have one or more of the 13 disabilities specified by federal special education law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Additionally, the disability must affect the child's functional and educational performance and require specialized instruction.

How is eligibility for special education determined?
PPT members, including the parents of the child, come together at a PPT meeting to talk about the child's eligibility for special education. The team makes the decision based on information gathered during the evaluation. The team decides if the child meets the definition of a child with a disability, has a disability, if the disability has an adverse effect on educational performance, and if he/she requires specialized instruction.

Are there any special circumstances that may affect eligibility?
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a child may not be found eligible for services if the determining reason for thinking the child is eligible is that:

  • the child has limited English proficiency, or
  • the child has not had appropriate instruction in math or reading

What happens if the child is found eligible?
If the child is found eligible for special education, the PPT team, including the parents, will determine the educational needs of the child and will work together to write an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

What happens if the child is found eligible?
If the child is found eligible for special education, the PPT team, including the parents, will determine the educational needs of the child and will work together to write an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

What happens if the child is found eligible for special education but the parents do not agree?
If the child is found eligible for special education and related services and the parents disagree with that decision, or if they do not want the child to receive special education and related services, they have the right to refuse consent for such services. The school may provide a child with special education and related services only if consent is obtained. Parents may revoke consent at any time. However, if the parents revoke consent and later change their minds, the evaluation process must be repeated.

What happens if the child is not eligible for special education?
If the PPT team decides that the child is not eligible for special education, the school district must tell the parents of this decision in writing and explain why the child has been found "not eligible." Under IDEA, parents must also be given information about what they can do if they disagree with this decision. Parents have the right to appeal the school district's decision by filing a complaint with the Connecticut State Department of Education, or initiating mediation or due process. For information about resolving disagreements, please contact CPAC.

Step 6: Individualized Education Plan

What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written plan that details each child's special education and related services, and the decisions of the Planning and Placement Team meeting.

Who has an IEP?
All students receiving special education and related services must have an IEP. It must be reviewed annually. Parents receive a copy of their child's IEP within five school days after the PPT meeting is held to develop or revise the IEP. Infants and toddlers identified as having a disability through the Connecticut Birth to Three System receive an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP).

What are the main components of an IEP?

  • Present levels of educational and functional performance
  • Measurable educational goals linked to present levels of academic and functional performance for the coming year and short-term instructional objectives derived from those goals
  • Evaluation procedures and performance criteria
  • An explanation of the extent, if any, to which your child will not participate in the regular education class, the general education curriculum or extracurricular activities
  • Modifications and accommodations your child needs to participate in the general education curriculum including nonacademic and extracurricular activities
  • Special education and related services required by your child
  • Instructional settings and a list of people who will work with your child to implement the IEP
  • The date services will begin and end, and the frequency of the identified services
  • The length of the school day and year
  • Statement of accommodations and modifications needed to facilitate CMT/CAPT, or district-wide testing
  • Decisions regarding participation in alternate assessments (if needed)
  • Transition service needs

How is progress measured in the IEP?
The IEP must include a statement of how the child's progress will be measured and the extent to which that progress is sufficient to enable the child to reach his/her annual goals by the end of the year. An explanation of how parents will be regularly informed of that progress should be included in the IEP. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their non-disabled children's progress.