This Advisory has two purposes: (1) to promote best practices for helping eligible children and their families transition into Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) and related services; and (2) to explain the roles and responsibilities of Early Intervention (EI) programs and school districts in that transition.
Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Massachusetts Special Education Regulations, children referred by EI and found eligible for ECSE are entitled to begin receiving services pursuant to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) by their third birthday.1 This Advisory provides guidance on how to facilitate the transition from EI programs to ECSE. Additionally, the Departments of Public Health (DPH) and Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) have jointly developed a sample EI/ECSE Transition Planning Tool template (attached as Appendix A), to be used by EI programs and school districts to assist in planning a child's transition to ECSE.
In Massachusetts, EI programs2 provide integrated, developmental services to families of eligible children between birth and three years of age. Children may be eligible for EI if they have developmental difficulties due to identified disabilities, or if development is at risk due to certain birth or environmental circumstances. EI programs provide comprehensive, integrated services, utilizing a family-centered approach to facilitate the developmental progress of eligible children. Services are designed to meet the developmental needs of each child, and to assist their family in enhancing that child's development. Services are determined in collaboration with families, focusing on the needs of each child, and the concerns, priorities, and available resources of their family.
ECSE services are designed for children ages 3–5 with educational disabilities, including developmental delays, who require specially-designed instruction or related services and whose disabilities interfere with participation in developmentally appropriate preschool settings and/or natural environments. Natural environments can include childcare settings, playgrounds, play groups and library settings. ECSE programs and services provide children with disabilities with access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) designed to meet their unique needs, enabling them to acquire knowledge and skills and improve social relationships.
The following sections of this Advisory discuss best practices for transitioning eligible children from EI Programs to ECSE services in the school district.
For children transitioning out of EI, transition planning occurs as part of a child's Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The transition plan outlines the steps and services to be taken to support the child when the child turns three and transitions out of EI.
EI program staff, with approval of the family will convene a Transition Planning Conference (TPC) that includes the family and a representative of the district, at least 90 days and — at the discretion of the parties — up to nine months before the child's third birthday.3 The purpose of the TPC is to review the child's EI services and development, discuss options and services for once the child leave EI, and establish or review transition activities.
If EI program staff determine that a child may be eligible for ECSE, the EI program staff will, with consent from the child's parent4, make a referral for special education evaluation to the child's school district of residence. The referral is to be made no later than 90 days before the child's third birthday, although at the discretion of the EI program and in consultation with the parent, the EI program staff may make the referral as early as nine months before the child's third birthday.5
Additionally, the IDEA requires that DPH notify the State Education Agency (SEA) as well as the child's school district that a child who is receiving EI services and who may be eligible for ECSE will be turning three.6 In Massachusetts, the SEA is DESE.
Pursuant to the IDEA, a representative from the child's school district of residence is required to participate in the TPC.9 If a representative of the school district is not able to attend the TPC in-person, they can still participate through other means, including via telephone conference call. The TPC provides the school district with the opportunity to build positive relationships with the child's family and to learn more about the child's individual needs. School districts are encouraged to work with EI programs to review transition planning practices in advance of the TPC to promote a smooth and effective transition for the children.
EI program staff can:
School district and EI program staff can:
When EI program staff determine that a child may be eligible for ECSE services and make a referral to the school district of residence, the school district will conduct an evaluation. In such a case, school districts shall evaluate children who are two and a half years of age and who receive services through an EI program. The school district should conduct the initial evaluation in time to ensure that if the child is found eligible, special education services begin promptly at age three, as required.10
When EI refers a child for evaluation, the school district is not permitted to decide that there is not enough information to justify the referral, nor may it conduct a "screening" prior to acting on the referral.11
Before it can conduct an evaluation to determine a child's ECSE eligibility, the school district must obtain a signed Evaluation Consent Form from the child's parent. To provide adequate time to conduct the evaluation and develop and implement an IEP for an eligible child by the child's third birthday, as required, we recommend that districts have procedures in place to obtain the signed Evaluation Consent Form no later than 60 days before the child's third birthday. Timely consent to evaluate is a key element in facilitating IEP development and implementation for eligible children.
Because skill development is rapid for young children, the district may wish to complete the evaluation closer to the child's third birthday. To mitigate delays in service for children transitioning from EI to ECSE, we recommend that school districts:
We also recommend that districts develop strategies to work with EI program staff to address the needs of children referred for special education evaluation at the end of the school year, when the school program is not in session, and in other special circumstances, to minimize delays in evaluation and implementation of services beyond the child's third birthday.
Upon receiving a referral from the EI program and the Evaluation Consent Form from the parent, the school district will arrange for an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services. School districts may choose to complete their own evaluations and assessments or may use evaluations and assessments completed by EI program staff if the reports are current and relevant to the eligibility determination, planning process, and IEP development. Upon completion of the evaluations and assessments, the district will convene a meeting with the child's parent and person or persons directly involved in the evaluation and assessment process12 to determine the child's eligibility for special education. School districts are encouraged, with the consent of the parent, to invite relevant EI program staff to this meeting as they may be able to provide valuable information regarding the child's development, services received, and current needs. If the child has been found eligible for special education, the school district will convene an IEP meeting which may be held as part of the eligibility determination meeting or separately. The IEP Team, consisting of the child's parent, one regular and one special education teacher, an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, a representative of the school district, and at the discretion of the parent or the district, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel, will convene to identify services to meet the child's educational needs and facilitate IEP development and implementation by the child's third birthday.13
The IEP Team may decide, and the child's parent may consent, to use an IFSP for the first year of the child's special education services as the child turns three.14 The IFSP must be developed in accordance with the requirements of state and federal law.15 If the school district chooses to offer an IFSP instead of an IEP for the year that the child turns three, the school district must provide the child's parent with a detailed explanation of the differences between an IFSP and an IEP.16
When a child is determined eligible for special education, identified services must begin at age three. The school district should follow up with parents for signatures, registration, or provision of required forms to minimize delays and assure the timely implementation of services. In some cases, despite the EI program's and district's best efforts, implementation of ECSE services may be delayed. We encourage school districts and EI programs to review and update strategies and practices for parent outreach, to help avoid delays in service delivery.
When school districts and EI programs work together, they can develop consistent routines, practices, and policies that support successful transitions to ECSE for young children. Working with families to develop well-planned, respectful practices and policies can make transition a positive and successful experience for all children and families.
This Advisory was developed in collaboration with representatives from EI programs, school districts, the Federation for Children with Special Needs, and Early Education and Care.
1 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.124 and 603 CMR 28.04(1)(d).
2 EI is a program through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for infants and toddlers (birth to 3 years old) who have developmental delays or are at risk of a developmental delay.See Early Intervention Division (EI)
3 See 34 C.F.R. § 303.209(c)
4 The term "parent" as used in this advisory includes biological or adoptive parent, foster parent, and legal guardian. See 34 C.F.R. § 303.27(a)
5 See 34 C.F.R. § 303.209(b)
6 See 34 C.F.R. § 303.209(b) Pursuant to the interagency agreement between DPH and DESE under 34 C.F.R. § 303.209(a)(3)(i)(A), DPH has developed policies and procedures that allow for the EI programs to notify the local school districts directly.
7 See 34 C.F.R. § 303.209(b)(1)(ii)
8 See 34 C.F.R. § 303.209(b)(1)(iii)
9 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.124(c)
10 See 603 CMR 28.04(1)(d): "Upon referral, school districts shall evaluate children who are two and a half years of age and who may be receiving services through an early intervention program. An initial evaluation shall be conducted in order to ensure that if such child is found eligible, special education services begin promptly at age three." See also 603 CMR 28.06(7)(b): "School districts are encouraged to accept referrals from the Department of Public Health, other agencies, and individuals for young children when or before the child turns two-and-one-half years old in order to ensure continuity of services and to ensure the development and implementation of an IEP for eligible children by the date of the child's third birthday in accordance with federal requirements."
11 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.302
12 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.306(a)(1)
13 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.321(a)
14 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.323(b)
15 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.323(b)(1)(i)
16 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.323(b)(2)(i)
Last Updated: November 8, 2018
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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