|Preschool Special Education
A child is eligible for preschool special education if he or she meets the criteria of one of the disabling conditions
recognized by the Disabilities Education Act regulations. The child must have one of the following conditions: speech-
language impaired, other health impaired, hearing impaired, visually impaired, orthopedically impaired,
cognitively delayed, multiply-disabled, deaf/blind, seriously emotionally disturbed, learning disabled, autism
or traumatic brain injured.
A child who is 5 years old or younger may be identified as a child with a disability without the disability being
specified. If the child is deemed eligible for preschool special education services, the Individualized Education Program
(IEP) team will set a date upon which special education services will begin. This date may be on the child’s third
birthday or on the first day of the following school year. An eligible child whose third birthday falls during the summer
vacation begins services in the fall unless the child needs Extended School Year (ESY) services.
Free, Appropriate Public Education
When a child enters a preschool special education program, he or she is guaranteed all of the protections and benefits
of the federal and state special education laws. The central benefit under these laws is a free, appropriate public
education. Every child who qualifies for special education has the right to a public education. It does not matter how
severe the child’s disabilities may be or how much special education the child requires. Every qualifying child must
receive an appropriate educational program, and the services must be provided without cost to the parents.
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
Every child in special education must be placed in a program which is located in the least restrictive environment. The
(LRE) means the placement which is as close as possible to the regular education program. Special education law
favors placing children with disabilities in regular classrooms with whatever supplemental aids they need to be
successful. If a child is not going to be placed in regular education, the school district must justify the removal from
regular education as necessary to meet the child’s needs. The least restrictive environment at the preschool level has
been interpreted somewhat differently from LRE at the elementary school level. Since few public schools offer
preschool programs for children ages 3 and 4, there is no “regular” classroom environment in which preschoolers
with special needs can be placed with children who are the same age. Preschool children may, however, be integrated
into kindergarten classes with 5-and 6-year olds. Or they may be served in a community-based preschool classroom,
a Head Start class, a preschool special education classroom with children who are the same age, or in a home-based
program in which the special education teacher provides services in the child’s home. School districts are not
responsible for establishing preschool programs for non-disabled children, nor do districts have to pay for private
preschool placement for children with special needs unless such a placement is necessary to implement the child’s
special education program.
All children need a chance to make friends with other children their age. Special education law encourages school
districts to give children with disabilities the chance to associate with other children, both disabled and non-disabled,
so that they can build a circle of friends and acquaintances. All children in special education-no matter where they
receive their program have the right to spend at least part of the school day with children who do not have disabilities.
The least restrictive environment for preschool children may be achieved in any of the following ways:
• Locating a preschool special education program in a regular elementary school
• Linking a preschool special education program to preschool programs operated by other public or private
agencies (e.g. Head Start)
• Combining children who have disabilities with children who do not have a disability in a preschool special
education program (“reverse main streaming”)
A child in a preschool special education program may be placed in a private preschool if such a placement is
necessary to implement the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). The school district would be responsible
for the costs of the private placement for the portion of time that the child is receiving special education.
Parents are important decision makers in the special education of young children. School districts must inform parents
about the options available and the procedures used in special education. The family and school personnel become the
team that makes decisions about the child’s needs and services. Representatives of your school district should discuss
• The nature of your child’s disability and its implication for education
• Methods of coordinating your child’s services
• The school district’s special education program and how it works.
Referral for Evaluation
You as a parent can refer your child for a special education evaluation. Professionals who work with your child like
your family physician or a therapist may make a referral. A child may also be referred because of concerns raised by
To make a referral:
• Contact your local school district
• Discuss the reasons for suspecting that your child has a disability
• Summerize the supports and services your child received through early intervention services and their results
• Fill out the district’s referral form describing the child’s learning problems or developmental delays
• Give your consent in writing so that your child can be tested for special education.
A comprehensive evaluation must look at the child from several viewpoints. It must also be non biased and
nondiscriminatory. If you child speaks a language other than English, your child must be tested in the language which
he or she uses and understands. The comprehensive evaluation cannot be limited to one test. It may include (but is not
• An individual psychological examination
• Vision and hearing examinations
• A medical history
• Standardized developmental evaluation
• Observations of social behavior
• Assessment of language development
• Observation in several environment
• Information from family members and others who know the child well
• Information from teachers, doctors, therapists, and others who have worked with the child.
You must consent in writing to the evaluation, and you have the right to be fully informed of the results. At the Child
Study Team meeting you will meet with public school personnel to discuss the results of the evaluation.
Preschool Special Education Program
When children are three, four, and fiver years old, it is sometimes hard to imagine them attending “school” as older
children do. Preschool special education is a program designed to meet the unique developmental needs of a particular
child. The program may focus on self help skills, motor development, language skills, pre-academic learning, social
skills or any combination of these. Preschool special education is education. It is not designed to meet a child’s
medical needs, nor does it provide the child care services typically found in day-care.
Extended School Year
Normally special education services are provided during the regular school year, but some children require more
schooling than that. Extended School Year (ESY) services may be written into the IEP and provided to a child during
the summer months. ESY services are offered to prevent significant loss of previously learned skills. ESY applies to
specific educational goals and objectives.
Children in special education are entitled to a wide variety of services if they need those services or to benefit from
their education. These related services may include (but are not limited to):
• Physical Therapy
• Orientation and mobility services
• School health services
• Speech and language pathology services
• Audiology services
• Recreation and recreation therapy services
• Social work services in schools
• Psychological services
• Counseling services
• Rehabilitation counseling services
• Medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes
• Parent training services
• Assistive technology services
The IEP should indicate the related services the child needs, how much of the services is required, and how often the
services will be provided.
If transportation is a related service that a child needs, the school district must provide the transportation, contract
with another agency to do so, or contract with the parents to bring their child to school. Transportation means round
trip, home to school and school to home services. If a parent has been offered a transportation contract but does not
want to transport the child, the school district is still responsible for providing transportation. Parents cannot be
forced to provide transportation if they are unwilling or unable to do so.
Special education can be provided to preschool children in a number of ways. The IEP team is free to select any
model but must ensure both free appropriate public education and least restrictive environment as it identifies an
appropriate placement for the child.
Special education for the child may be provided in the child’s home by an traveling special education teacher.
Special education may be provided in your neighborhood elementary school building where there are opportunities for
interaction with other students throughout the course of the school day.
Center-based programs involve bringing children to a central location for a preschool special education class. The
program usually lasts for two hours per day for three, four, or five days per week. According to need, some children
may require more or less time in preschool special education than two hours per day.
Five year-old children with disabilities may participate in a regular kindergarten program with supplementary special
education. Some children may be placed both in kindergarten and in a preschool special education class.
Reverse main streaming involves non-disabled children coming into a special education classroom and participating in
activities with identified special education students.
Children with a particular special education need like language development may be placed in a special education
program with focuses specifically on that need.
School districts may decide to contract with local private preschool or other community agency as a site in which to
provide a special education for a specific child. The public school will provide for the special education and related
services, but will not pay costs associated with child care or other, non-special education services.
A school district may collaborate with Head Start to provide a special education program.
When the needs of the child require it, two or more of the options above may be combined into a dual placement.
An IEP team may also develop another locally suitable placement appropriate to the student’s special education needs.
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) must be reviewed periodically because preschool children grow and
change very rapidly. Parents can ask for a review at any time. The IEP must be reviewed and rewritten at least
annually. The annual review should consider transition into the primary grades and into less restrictive environments.
A comprehensive reevaluation of the child’s strengths and weaknesses must be conducted at least every three years.
Parents or teacher can ask for a re-evaluation at any time that it seems necessary and appropriate.
Special education and related services for preschool children must be provided by qualified personnel. These
professionals must have the training to hold licenses in their specific fields like school psychologist, speech-language
pathology, special education, physical or occupational therapy. Unless private preschool or Head Start teachers have
these licenses, they may not provide special education and related services.
Certified teachers with child development credentials and certified elementary teachers may assist with special
education but may not provide special education unless they are also endorsed as special education teachers.
Kindergarten and First Grade Transition
As a childs’ sixth birthday comes closer a number of important decisions have to be made. First of all, if the child has
been identified as a “child with disabilities,” that generic classification must be changed to one of the disabling
condition found in special education law in your state for school-aged children. This change in classification can be
traumatic for parents. Parents should insist that the child be thoroughly and properly evaluated before any new
classification is applied.
A second important decision concerns placement, specifically how the IEP team will determine the appropriate
placement for the student entering kindergarten or first grade in the public school. The preference in special education
is for placement in the regular classroom if the child’s needs can be met in that setting. When considering a regular
classroom placement, the IEP team should consider what barriers there may be to the child’s success and how those
barriers could be eliminated.
Parents of children in special education are invited to participate fully with professionals in designing their child’s
educational program. To guarantee that parents have an opportunity to participate, special education law provides
parents with the following rights:
Notice - You have the right to receive written notice before the school evaluates your child individually, considers
special education for your child, or changes your child’s placement. You also have the right to receive notice before
the school district refuses your request for an evaluation or change in placement.
Records - You have the right to inspect and review all of your child’s’s educational records.
Consent - You must give written consent before the school district can evaluate your child or place your child in a
special education program.
Evaluations - It is important to understand the following about evaluations:
a. You may refuse to permit an evaluation;
b. If your child is evaluated and you think the evaluation is not adequate, you have the right to get an Independent
c. The school district must reevaluate your child at least every three years;
d. All tests must be given in the language the child knows best;
e. You have the right to be fully informed of the results of the evaluation.
Due Process - You have the right to an impartial due process hearing if you disagree with the school district on a
special education matter.
Complaints - You have the right to file a complaint with the Office of Public Instruction if the school district does
not comply with special education law.
Preschool Special Education / Local School District Ages Served 3-6 years old.
Child with Disabilities or Cognitive delay
Deafness Hearing impairment
Emotional disturbance Orthopedic impairment
Other health impairment Specific learning disability
Speech impairment Traumatic brain injury
Special education & related services are at no cost to parents.
As your child moves through the preschool special education process, he or she will be learning many new skills. You
as parents will also be acquiring knowledge about yourselves, about your child, and about the services and
opportunities available to your child. The more information you have, the more power and control you will have over
your child’s educational future.
You can become empowered as a parent of a child with special needs by doing the following:
1. Contacting national, state and local disability groups for more information about your child’s disability;
2. Reading materials available from the TRIC/PLUK Library at Parents, Let’s Unite for Kids
3. Asking questions of the professional who work with your child;
4. Keeping careful records of your child’s medical and educational history;
5. Participating in parent training workshops;
6. Joining a parent organization and gaining emotional and social support.