The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) issues this advisory relative to school district practices regarding young children with disabilities in preschool programs.
Public preschool programs that serve children with disabilities are required to be "developmentally appropriate and specially designed for children ages three and four years." See 603 CMR 28.06(7). On occasion, parents and school personnel discuss whether or not children who are five and will turn six years of age would benefit from remaining in the preschool program for an additional year. For children without disabilities, if the parents and the district agree such an action is appropriate, the child remains in the public school preschool program. However, if the child has a disability and is found eligible for special education, the district has been required to seek permission from the Department, with assistance from the Department of Early Education and Care, to allow the child to remain in the preschool program for an additional year.
Upon reviewing our procedures, we have determined that this practice is not required. Therefore, as of the 2008-2009 school year, it shall be up to the child's IEP Team to determine if an additional year of preschool is appropriate. Review and approval will not be required from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education or from the Department of Early Education and Care.
Since the parent is an integral member of the IEP Team, the Team's discussion of whether or not such an extension of preschool education is appropriate will include the concerns and interests of the parent regarding the educational needs of the child. This means that the authority of the Team to allow a four year old turning five to remain in preschool (see 603 CMR 28.06(7)(d)) will extend to a five year old turning six during the school year. All other instructional grouping requirements outlined in 603 CMR 28.06(7)(e-f) continue to apply.
Under the special education regulations, districts must obtain Department approval regarding students' ages only when a student who is five years or older is placed in an instructional group with other special education students in which the age of the youngest and oldest student in the group is greater than 48 months. See 603 CMR 28.06(6)(f). This requirement may apply to some preschool instructional groups in which older students have been placed and, if so, the Department expects the district to seek an age span waiver.
Districts are reminded that, in accordance with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education regulations for compulsory school attendance, each child is required to attend school beginning in September of the calendar year in which he/she turns six. See 603 CMR 8.02. Typically, and depending upon local requirements and the child's previous education, this means the child will enter either kindergarten or first grade.
In closing, we hope this guidance and added flexibility is helpful. If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Program Quality Assurance Services at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (781-338-3700).
Last Updated: September 5, 2007
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906
Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370
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