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Early Childhood Special Education

Frequently Asked Questions:
Transition from Early Intervention to Special Education

Prepared by the Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education, Public Health, and Early Education and Care, in cooperation with participants in the Early Childhood Transition Forums, March 2014, revised and updated November 2014

  1. May a school district decide at the Transition Planning Conference not to act on the referral of a child made by Early Intervention (EI)?

    The school district cannot refuse a referral of a child made by an EI provider. EI providers are responsible for determining if a child is potentially eligible for Part B services. The school district must act on the referral and conduct an evaluation (including all areas of suspected disability) of the child in order to determine if the child is eligible for special education services.

  2. May a school district determine that there is not enough information to justify a referral, or conduct a "screening" prior to acting on the referral?

    Districts must accept and act on referrals from EI providers; screening cannot be used to delay a referral received from EI. Under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the only basis under which districts may not act on a referral for an eligibility determination is if there is no suspected disability. Because the EI criteria for identifying a child as potentially eligible for special education is based on a suspected disability, it follows that there is no basis for a school district to refuse to act on a child's referral from EI.

    A student referred from EI must complete the evaluation process and a Team meeting must be held to determine eligibility. If the parent "Consent to Evaluate" form is received prior to the child's third birthday, the school must complete the evaluation, and, if the child is determined eligible, develop and implement the IEP on or before the child's third birthday.

  3. May EI evaluations be used by the school district as the basis for determining a child's eligibility for special education?

    Evaluations must be comprehensive and complete in all areas of suspected disability. The school district is encouraged to consider any and all evaluation information that is already available, and conduct additional assessments that are needed, as appropriate for the child under consideration.

  4. a. May a district require that a family submit to it proof of residency before pursuing a referral made by EI?

    Districts may have enrollment policies that require certain proofs of residency. Such enrollment policies must be applied in a nondiscriminatory manner to all students, and must not be used as a basis for delaying access to services. State and federal laws require a school district to make a determination of a young child's eligibility and to develop and implement an Individualized Education Program (IEP) by a child's third birthday when a young child is referred before his/her third birthday.

    We have heard anecdotally that some districts have a practice of not providing the "Consent to Evaluate" form or proceeding with the evaluations until all proofs of residency have been received and approved. Some families, particularly those for whom English is not their primary language or those who have informal/shared living arrangements have difficulty procuring necessary documents. The process for submitting documents can sometimes significantly delay the process.

    EI programs and districts are encouraged to work together to ensure transitions for children and their families are as seamless as possible. How to do so within the framework of districts' proof of residency policies may be addressed explicitly within the district/EI program's local MOU (e.g., the specific documents needed, timelines and approval processes, communication plans). EI programs should then work with parents far enough in advance to facilitate the approval process.

    You will find information regarding families who are unable to or reluctant to provide residency information in the Advisory: Serving Homeless Preschool Children.

    b. How do district registration policies affect referrals for children who are homeless?

    The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides additional rights to educational access for children who are homeless. The Act requires schools to enroll the child in school immediately, even if the child lacks records normally required for enrollment, including previous academic records, medical records, proof of residency, or other documentation. If a homeless child lacks immunization or medical records, the school district must refer the parent or guardian to its homeless assistance liaison, who will help the parent or guardian obtain the necessary records.

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that homeless preschoolers be included in a school district's Child Find process for early identification of special education needs. It is recommended that, when possible, the eligibility process for these children referred for evaluation should be expedited to avoid delays in providing services to eligible children who are homeless.

    Please see: Advisory: Enrollment of Homeless Students and School Records, and Advisory: Serving Homeless Preschool Children.

  5. May a parent opt to leave a child on an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) after a child turns three? Can a school district use an IFSP to describe a child's services instead of an IEP after transition to special education?

    The IEP Team may decide, and the child's parents may consent, to use an IFSP for the first year of the child's services after age three. This is permitted under the IDEA regulations at 34 CFR § 300.323(b), and is consistent with Massachusetts regulations at 603 CMR 28.06(7)(c). The IFSP must be developed in accordance with the requirements of state and federal law. If the school district chooses to offer an IFSP instead of an IEP for the year that the student turns three, the district must provide the child's parents with a detailed explanation of the differences between an IFSP and an IEP.

  6. Does the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have authority to enforce the 30 day timeline for parents to review the IEP that is described in state regulations at 28 CMR 28.05(7)(a)?

    The timeline referred to in the regulations does not include an enforcement mechanism. Regarding its applicability to the IEP development for a young child referred to the district by EI, the timeframe in the regulations illustrates the importance of the need for school districts and parents to work together to identify and provide the right set of services for an eligible child in a timely manner. In the case of young children, the requirement is to ensure that eligible children are identified and have services in place by age three.

  7. Sometimes evaluation schedules for a child can vary. For example, a child may have had a full speech/language evaluation at age 2.8, but may have had other evaluations prior to this. In this case, what is the correct date for re-evaluation?

    The appropriate schedule for assessments will vary based on the child's individual needs and the types of evaluations planned. There is no absolute correct date for re-evaluations of specific assessments; the law generally envisions full re-evaluations only every three years.

  8. If EI discharges a child and then the parent refers the student to the school district at age 2.6 for special education evaluation, must the child be evaluated, and if so, which agency is responsible for conducting the evaluation?

    If the parent is requesting that the child receive more EI services, then the Department of Public Health (DPH) must follow policies and procedures related to EI. If the parent is requesting that the child receive an eligibility determination for Part B special education services to begin when the child turns three, the school district must act on the parent's referral unless there is no suspected disability.

  9. Are there timelines for the school district to respond to the referral received from an EI provider?

    Part C of the IDEA includes the requirements and procedural safeguards for the provision of services for infants and toddlers birth up to, but not including the third birthday. Part B of IDEA specifies the requirements and procedural safeguards for children age 3 through 21. The timelines of Part B of IDEA and the Massachusetts Special Education regulations apply to all children age three through twenty-one. Therefore, specific timelines such as the five school-day written notice the school must send to the parent upon receipt of the referral along with the consent form to evaluate the child does not apply because the child is not yet 3 years of age.

    Special education law requires that districts, upon receiving a referral from EI, complete an evaluation and make a determination of eligibility and, if the child is determined eligible, implement the IEP by the child's third birthday.

    The Department encourages districts and EI programs to work together to support best practices to ensure that all children who are referred and found eligible have an IEP in place by their third birthday.

  10. Can a district begin providing a child with Part B special education services before the child's parent have signed the IEP?

    If the family has been provided with a summary of the evaluation and is in agreement with the team that special education services can start, services may be initiated prior to the signed IEP. The district should work with the parent to obtain the parent's signature indicating consent to the IEP as soon as possible.

  11. Are there specific requirements for who is part of an IEP Team?

    The public agency must ensure that the IEP Team for each child with a disability includes:

    • The parents of the child;
    • Not less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment);
    • Not less than one special education teacher of the child, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of the child;
    • A representative of the public agency who—
      • Is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities;
      • Is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and
      • Is knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the public agency.
      • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, who may be a member of the team
    • At the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate; and
    • Whenever appropriate, the child with a disability.

  12. Must an IEP Team meeting be held in order to determine a child's eligibility for special education, or can Team members make decisions outside of a meeting?

    A district is required to conduct a Team meeting to which all members of the Team are invited to discuss the results of the evaluation and determine a child's eligibility for special education.

  13. Are schools required to provide transportation?

    Districts are required to provide transportation services as agreed upon in the IEP.

  14. A referral from EI and/or the consent to evaluate are received by the school district less than 45 days before the school year ends. When is the district required to hold the IEP meeting?

    If the district received the referral and/or the parent's consent to evaluate less than 45 school days before the end of the school year, the district may complete the evaluation process and hold an IEP meeting to determine eligibility before the end of the year in order to ensure that decisions are timely and in the child's best interests. If the Team determines that the child is eligible for special education, the district must make every effort to implement the IEP on or before the child's third birthday in accordance with the requirements of IDEA.

    Districts should have protocols in place to be able to address and act in a timely manner on referrals received late in the school year.

  15. An EI referral is received by the school district in the summer. When is the district required to hold the IEP meeting?

    If the district receives the referral and the consent to evaluate during the summer before the child's third birthday, the district must make every effort to complete the evaluation process and hold an IEP meeting to determine eligibility as soon as possible. If the child is determined eligible, every effort must be made to implement the IEP on or before the child's third birthday.

    Districts should have protocols in place to be able to address and act on summer referrals in a timely manner.

  16. The student turns three during the summer. When is the district required to hold the IEP meeting? Must the district provide extended school year services to the child?

    If the district receives the referral and the parents provide consent to evaluate before the end of the school year, the district must make every effort to complete the evaluation process and hold an IEP meeting to determine eligibility. If the child is determined eligible, every effort must be made to implement the IEP on or before the child's third birthday.

    Districts should have protocols in place to be able to address and act on referrals made for students turning three during the summer in a timely manner.

    The IEP Team should always consider whether a child eligible for special education needs extended year services (EYS) as a component of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). If so, that determination must be included in the IEP. For a child who turns three during the summer, it is important for the Team to be able to make this decision as soon as possible so that summer services, if necessary, are available to the child by his/her third birthday.

    • EYS may be provided in the community through routine-based community interventions and do not have to be delivered in a school district location.
    • If a child is not eligible for EYS, services will start on the first available program day following the child's third birthday.


Last Updated: December 19, 2014
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