Compulsory attendance begins at 8 years of age and continues until the age of 18 unless the student qualifies for certain exceptions.
Infants and toddlers receiving early intervention services may be eligible to start preschool as early as 3 years old to continue receiving specialized instruction and related services.
A student aged 4 years old by August 31 may be screened for Transition to Kindergarten (TK), a state program designed for students who need additional support to be successful in kindergarten the following year.
A child must have turned 5 years old by August 31 to enroll in kindergarten, and 6 years old to enroll in first grade.
When registering your student for school, contact the school to find out what documents are required in addition to those listed in this article.
Students with a condition that may require medication or treatment
If your child has never enrolled in school, back to school season can be a confusing time. This article answers frequently asked questions about school entrance age, compulsory education, and the enrollment process. Note that “enrollment” and “registration” are used interchangeably regarding the steps leading up to a student starting school and within the OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) website.
At what age are children required to attend school?
Federal law protects the rights of children and youth to receive a publicly funded education. This is called compulsory education, or compulsory attendance. The age at which a child must begin school varies by state. In Washington state, children must begin attending school full-time at the age of 8 and continue attending regularly until the age of 18 (RCW 28A.225.010).
There are some exceptions to compulsory attendance, including if a child is –
enrolled in a private school, extension program, or residential school operated by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
enrolled in home-based instruction that meets State supervision requirements.
excused by the school district superintendent for physical or mental incapacity.
incarcerated in an adult correctional facility.
temporarily excused upon the request of the parents when the excused absences meet additional requirements under Washington state law (RCW 28A.225.010).
Compulsory attendance is required in Washington until the age of 18, unless the student is 16 years or older and meets additional criteria for emancipation, graduation, or certification (RCW 28A.225.010).
At what age can a student begin attending school?
Students with special needs or disabilities may qualify for early education programs. An infant or toddler with a disability or developmental delay receiving early intervention services may be eligible to start preschool between the ages of 3-5 to continue receiving specialized instruction and related services through the public school district until they reach the minimum enrollment age for kindergarten. Washington’s Transition to Kindergarten (TK) program screens 4-year-olds with a birthday by August 31st to identify those in need of additional preparation to be successful in kindergarten.
Parents may choose to enroll a child in kindergarten at 5 years old, if the birthday occurred before August 31st of the same year, but kindergarten is not required under compulsory education. Similarly, a child must be 6 years of age to enroll in first grade.
Families have the right to choose whether to enroll their students in school until the child turns 8 years old and compulsory attendance applies.
How do I enroll my student in school?
If this is the first time your child will attend this school, call the school and ask what you must bring with you to enroll your child and the best time to go to the school for enrollment. Consider that things will be busiest right before the school day starts, during lunch breaks, and as school is ending. Also find out if there is an on-site school nurse and the best time to reach that person.
Proof of age (e.g., birth certificate or passport).
Health history, including name, address, and phone number of child’s doctor and dentist.
Proof of residency (e.g., utility bill, tax statement).
Parent or guardian’s telephone numbers.
Child’s immunization records.
If your child has attended another school, also provide:
Withdrawal form or report card from the last school attended.
Enrollment for Military-Connected Students
A Washington law passed in 2019 (HB 1210-S.SL, School Enrollment-Nonresident Children from Military Families) allows advance enrollment of children of active-duty service members with official military orders transferring or pending transfer into the state. This means that qualifying children must be conditionally enrolled in a specific school and program and registered for courses. The parent must provide proof of residence within fourteen days of the arrival date listed in the military orders before the school will finalize the enrollment. The address on the proof of residency may be a temporary on-base detailing facility; a purchased or leased residence, or a signed purchase and sale or lease agreement; or military housing, including privatized and off-base housing. The child will be conditionally enrolled and registered for courses.
Additional Considerations for Military-Connected Students
Children with parents in the uniformed services may be covered by the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children, also known as MIC3, was created with the hope that students will not lose academic time during military-related relocation, obtain an appropriate placement, and be able to graduate on time. MIC3 provides uniform policy guidance for how public schools address common challenges military-connected students experience when relocating, including several issues related to enrollment. Learn more about how to resolve Compact-related issues with this MIC3 Step-by-Step Checklist.
MIC3 allows military parents to hand-carry “unofficial” (temporary) school records from the sending school to give to the receiving school for enrollment.
The sending school must provide official records within ten business days of the receiving school’s request.
If students have not been immunized, they have 30 days from enrollment to get the required shots or receive the first shot in a series.
If a child was enrolled and attending kindergarten at the sending school, they must be allowed to enroll and continue at the receiving school, regardless of the school’s age requirement.
A military child can keep going to the school in the school or district they have been attending, even if the person they are living with is in a different school district.
MIC3 allows flexibility concerning extracurricular activities to include military children even if they can’t meet an application deadline.
The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3, pronounced “mick three”) is the more commonly used name for the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children. MIC3’s rules provide consistent guidelines for how public schools address the most common challenges military-connected students experience during a PCS (permanent change of station, the military’s term for “relocation”). Washington codified MIC3 into state policy as RCW 28A.705.010.
MIC3 seeks to prevent students from losing academic time with enrollment provisions that address:
Unofficial or hand-carried records.
Official records and transcripts.
Kindergarten and first-grade entrance ages.
Unofficial or Hand-Carried Records
MIC3 allows military parents to hand-carry photocopied or “unofficial” (temporary) school records from the sending school to give to the receiving school. Waiting for the original official transcripts can be time-consuming and not beneficial to the student since receiving official documentation from another state or overseas can take weeks. Under MIC3, the receiving school must use the unofficial records for the child’s enrollment. The unofficial records must include attendance records, academic information, and grade placement (part of the primary documents package).
Official Records and Transcripts
It is the receiving school’s responsibility to immediately request an official set of records (transcripts) from the sending school. The sending school must send out the official records within ten business days, with extensions allowed for school breaks. After school staff return from a break, the official records must be provided within ten business days.
If a child hasn’t already had the immunizations (shots to protect against certain diseases) the receiving school requires, the student has 30 days from enrollment to get the shots. If the child needs a series of shots to be immunized, they must get the first shot within 30 days. The school may require a negative test for tuberculosis, which is not an immunization and, therefore, not covered by MIC3.
Kindergarten and First Grade Entrance Ages
When enrolling a child in school, MIC3 enables them to enter the grade they were in at the sending school. Suppose a child was enrolled and already attending kindergarten at their previous school. In that case, the new school must allow the child to enroll in kindergarten even if the age requirement differs. Suppose the child should be starting first grade. In that case, MIC3 says that if the child completed the previous grade in the sending school (including kindergarten), they could enroll in the next grade at the receiving school, even if the age requirements differ. The letter or transcript from the sending school must show the child’s attendance in kindergarten if the concerns is about kindergarten eligibility.
Regarding eligibility, MIC3 provides guidance on the issues of:
Special power of attorney with guardianship.
Special Power of Attorney with Guardianship
During deployments and other military mobilizations, children of servicemembers may live with another family member, non-custodial parent, or guardian through a Military Family Care Plan. Under MIC3, a military child can keep going to the school in the school or district they have been attending, even if the person they are living with is in a different school district. The school district cannot charge local tuition for living outside the district under these circumstances, except for optional programs offered by the school or district. The person taking care of the child will be responsible for transporting the student to the school while the child resides out-of-district. At enrollment, if not given to the school earlier, the parent or guardian must be provided with the Military Family Care Plan, Special Powers of Attorney, and/or custody orders.
States and local schools can be flexible so military children can be in sports and extracurricular activities, even if the child can’t meet an application deadline, including tryouts, seasonal conditioning, and other prerequisites instituted by the district or team supervisor. The child will still have to meet the eligibility standards for the activity, such as auditioning for sports or a music program. MIC3 requires that school and district programs make “reasonable efforts” to allow military children to participate in extracurricular activities, but this does not include holding open or creating additional spaces. MIC3 does not apply to state athletic associations, like travel teams or sportsman clubs, which are not a part of state or district education systems.
Mobility (the ability to move around) is important for interacting with the world, developing social relationships, and participating in our community
Ableism is when people are treated unfairly because of their body or mind differences. This can make people feel ashamed. It can also make it hard for them to move around because places aren’t accessible. This means they have fewer chances to be mobile.
Studies show that when kids with disabilities have self-initiated mobility (can start moving on their own), it helps them grow, make friends, and take part in things. This is true no matter how they move around.
Many young children with disabilities lack access to mobility technologies such as wheelchairs or supportive walking devices
It is important to spread the word about the benefits of mobility technology, and some of the current barriers that limit access to mobility technologies for children with disabilities
We need to tell people about how mobility technology can help kids with disabilities. We need to talk about why it can be hard for families to get this technology and work on making it easier to access these tools.
There are many ways for families to try mobility devices for children. They can work with their therapy teams to access the technology they need.
I want to invite you to take 30 seconds and think back to when you were a kid. What did you love to do? Why did you love it? How did this contribute to who you were, and how see yourself now? For me, it was playing the 80’s childhood game ‘ghosts in the graveyard’ around my neighborhood in the summer. Ghosts in the graveyard combines tag and hide-and-seek…in the dark. What could go wrong?! I was with my friends, people I trusted. I was in my own yard, and the yards of my neighborhood. Places I knew well. Sure, there was a bit of risk, or what we thought to be risk in our young minds, but I loved to do it. I felt free and safe at the same time.
So, what did you think of? Maybe for some of you, it was reading. For others, playing with friends at a playground, or in the sand and water at the beach. Maybe you were a dancer, or an artist. Perhaps you were on a sports team of some sort. Maybe it was none of these things. And regardless of how or where, I imagine we all got into some troublemaking. So, what made it all possible? I would guess that whatever it was, it was possible because of your ability to connect to the world, and objects, and people through mobility.
Ableism, Troublemaking, and the Importance of Mobility
Though we may have our own special idea of what mobility means, there’s also likely a lot of common ground, too. Let’s start with how the dictionary defines mobility and locomotion. According to Merriam-Webster, locomotion is defined as ‘the act or power of moving from place to place’. For mobility, we find ‘the ability or capacity to move; the ability to change one’s social or socioeconomic position in a community and especially to improve it.’ What stands out to you when you see these definitions? What is or isn’t included?
Note the definitions don’t talk about how people move or who’s moving. But what they do highlight is that mobility is powerful and social. We know society values some types of movement, like walking, more than others. For those with disabilities, this value judgement can lead to harm. This is ableism at work. It is thinking that being normal means being able-bodied. Ableism leads to unfair treatment of those who function differently. This connects to other ‘isms’ and makes things even harder. Even though there are tools like wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, and gait trainers to help with mobility, ableism affects how we see and value this technology in society. Because of this, people with disabilities wait longer for access, pay more, and have fewer choices. Just exploring these options can cause people to feel shame. Even then, many places are still inaccessible. Our mobility isn’t just about getting from one place to another. It helps us connect with others, make friends, explore new things, and have fun. When the mobility of disabled people is limited, it is an equity issue. For children with disabilities, ableism can take away their chance to be troublemakers.
Parents know that toddlers can be a handful. They touch everything, make messes, and often try to run away. But what if a toddler has a physical disability? How can we help them learn about their bodies and the world around them, especially when they might need help or special equipment to move around? Research shows that when kids start moving on their own, they learn a lot. They get better at understanding space, thinking, talking, and moving. Their relationships with parents and caregivers also improve. They show more emotions and hear more language from adults. These benefits happen for all kids, whether they crawl, use a baby walker, or drive a mobility device.
When kids can’t move on their own, either by using their muscles or with technology, they may have trouble starting to play and interacting with others. They may also have slower development in thinking, seeing shapes, and body awareness. Caregivers may not notice when the child tries to move or talk. Kids with disabilities are often described as quieter and better behaved than other kids. They are often placed near the fun but are not always part of the fun. This is not the child’s fault. It’s because our surroundings, technology, and ways of doing things don’t reflect how important it is for very young children with disabilities to move on their own. Parents and disabilities rights groups have worked hard to make schools more inclusive. But we need to do more to see how technology and design can help kids move and truly take part in things. As a pediatric physical therapist for kids and a technology researcher, my goal is to help kids with disabilities have more chances to be movers, shakers, and troublemakers.
Spreading the Word about the Importance of Self-Initiated Mobility
I work at the University of Washington as a researcher and associate director of an accessibility center called CREATE- The Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences. Our center has researchers from many different fields. We all focus on accessibility in different ways. My focus is on helping kids with disabilities access mobility technology. Our team works with children ages 1-5 who have trouble moving because of conditions like cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, spinal muscle atrophy, and genetic conditions. Some kids will learn to walk. But it’s important for them to have other ways to move around while they practice. Sometimes people think using mobility technology keeps children from developing motor skills like walking. This isn’t true. Research shows that using technology can even help kids learn to walk and do other things better! Our work at CREATE is to learn more about how kids use technology to move and to explore new technology together with the disabled community. We want to share how mobility technology helps kids grow and interact with their world.
Trying Out or Obtaining Mobility Technology
We know it’s important for kids with disabilities to be able to move around on their own. Mobility technology can help them do that. If families want to try out or get this technology, how can they start? Here are some important things to think about:
Talk with your therapy team to see if they have any devices at the clinic that you can try or borrow
Regional equipment lending libraries may mobility technology for children. It is always worth asking. In Washington, Bridge Disability Ministries has locations in Tukwila and Bellevue, The Washington Technical Assistance Program (WATAP) ships mobility technology accessories (not devices themselves) across the state. There are many other libraries throughout the state that are grouped together on the Northwest Access Fund loan program website.
When buying mobility technology, there are many things to consider. Think about the size and weight of the device and your transportation needs. Also think about how your home is set up and how your child will grow. An equipment clinic at a local hospital or therapy center can help. They have staff that can help you find the best equipment for your child as they grow.
Some people buy mobility technology themselves, but most get it through public or private funding. To get funding, you need a letter from a doctor saying your child needs the equipment. The letter must explain why the equipment is a good match for your child’s needs, how much it costs, and how it will be used at home and in the community. Staff at equipment clinics usually write the letter and send it to the doctor to sign. Then they send it to the funding agency.
It can take 3-12 months to get approved for mobility technology, depending on how you’re paying for it. Sometimes the first request is denied, and you have to appeal. It’s important for you and your equipment clinic team to keep fighting for your child’s needs.
You can also make your own mobility technology through the University of Washington Go Baby Go! program. This program changes battery-powered toy cars so kids with disabilities can use them. The cars are changed with a switch and special seats to help kids move around on their own. The program is for young kids from 9 months to 5 years old and is free for families.
Families can learn more about mobility technology by taking part in research. This can help them find out what types of technology are available and get practice using it. For example, at CREATE, we have done studies on how kids with Down syndrome move and explore, how young kids learn to use powered mobility devices, and how families use adapted toy cars. Taking part in research is always up to the family. Parents must give permission for their kids to join. Research studies are usually advertised on university websites and at therapy clinics. You can also join a research registry or ask your therapy team for help finding local researchers. Research centers like CREATE partner with people with disabilities and families to find out what research is most important to them.
In conclusion, being able to move around on your own is a basic human right. It is also really important for kids’ development and social life, no matter how they do it! Mobility technology can help children with disabilities, but it can be hard for families to get. Trying out equipment through therapy providers or lending libraries, buying equipment, or taking part in research can all help your child experience the benefits of mobility technology. These benefits can help your child grow, make friends, and take part in things.
References and Additional Resources:
Sabet, A., Feldner, H., Tucker, J., Logan, S. W., & Galloway, J. C. (2022). ON time mobility: Advocating for mobility equity. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 34(4), 546-550.
Feldner, H. A., Logan, S. W., & Galloway, J. C. (2016). Why the time is right for a radical paradigm shift in early powered mobility: the role of powered mobility technology devices, policy and stakeholders. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 11(2), 89-102.
Late summer is the time to gather school supplies, find out what time the school bus will pick up and drop off, and prepare to find new classrooms and meet new teachers. Parents of students with disabilities have some additional things to check off the list to be ready for the year ahead. As August is National Immunization Month, we are adding updated immunizations and flu and covid boosters to the reminders. These are fully covered medical expenses whether you have insurance or not and can go a long way to keeping your child and your family healthy as we move into the fall and winter months. There are multiple events across our state where families can go to for immunizations.
Super important: As school begins, make sure you know what’s included in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), Section 504 Plan, and/or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). For more, see PAVE’s article: Tips to Help Parents Plan for the Upcoming School Year.
Create a one-pager about your child to share with school staff
Include a picture
List child’s talents and strengths—your bragging points
Describe behavioral strategies that motivate your child
Mention any needs related to allergy, diet, or sensory
Highlight important accommodations, interventions, and supports from the 504 Plan, IEP, or BIP
Make a list of questions for your next meeting to discuss the IEP, BIP, or 504 Plan
Do you understand the goals and what skills your child is working on?
Do the present levels of performance match your child’s current development?
Do accommodations and modifications sound likely to work?
Do you understand the target and replacement behaviors being tracked and taught by a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)?
Will the child’s transportation needs be met?
Mark your calendar for about a week before school starts to visit school and/or send an email to teachers, the IEP case manager, and/or your child’s counselor
Share the one-pager you built!
Ask school staff how they prefer to communicate—email, phone, a notebook sent back and forth between home and school?
Get clear about what you want and need, and collaborate to arrange a communication plan that will work for everyone
A communication plan between home and school can be listed as an accommodation on an IEP or 504 Plan; plan to ask for your communication plan to be written into the document at the next formal meeting
Design a communication log book
Can be a physical or digital notebook
Plan to write notes every time you speak with someone about your child’s needs or services. Include the date, the person’s full name and title, and information about the discussion
Log every communication, whether it happens in the hallway, on the phone, through text, via email, or something else
After every communication, plan to send an email thanking the person for their input and reviewing what was discussed and any promised actions—now that conversation is “in writing”
Print emails to include in your physical log book or copy/paste to include in a digital file
Having everything in writing will help you confirm what did/didn’t happen as promised: “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.”
Consider if you want to request more information about the credentials of teachers or providers working with your child. Here are some things you can ask about:
Who is providing which services and supports?
Who is designing the specially designed instruction (SDI)? (SDI helps a child make progress toward IEP goals)
What training did these staff receive, or are there training needs for the district to consider?
Ask the special education teacher or 504 case manager how you can share information about your child, such as a one-pager, with school team members. This includes paraprofessionals or aids and other members of the school team.
Parents have important information that benefit all school team members. Ask who has access to your child’s IEP or 504 Plan and how you can support ensuring team members receive information
Have thank you notes ready to write and share!
Keep in mind that showing someone you appreciate their efforts can reinforce good work
Celebrate your child’s return to school
Do the bus dance on the first morning back to school!
Be ready to welcome your child home with love and encouragement. You can ask questions and/or read notes from your child’s teachers that help your loved one reflect on their day and share about the new friends and helpers they met at school
Below is an infographic of the above information.
Tip! you can click on the image and access an accessible PDF to print and keep handy.
The planning process to support a student with disabilities toward their adult life plans requires coordination and organization. This graphic provides a visual overview of the work and who is responsible to help.
The center upside down triangle describes key questions for a student as they move through school and toward adulthood:
Who am I? Answers include what the student is interested in, what they are good at, what they struggle with, and how they see themselves.
What’s my future? Students can begin to imagine where they might work, whether higher education will be part of their future, and how they might live.
How do I reach my goals? The answers are a long-term project. A good planning process ensures that work done today is moving the student toward their vision for adult life.
The three colored triangles on the corners of the graphic represent three tools that help students ask and answer these questions.
The purple triangle on the bottom left represents the High School and Beyond Plan. Washington State requires schools to begin supporting all students with a High School and Beyond Plan before they leave middle school. The plan includes questions to help the student think about where they might work someday and how much education they will need to get that job. The plan is designed to make sure time spent in school is moving the student toward adult goals. The High School and Beyond Plan addresses the same questions that are listed in the center of our triangle and is often managed by staff in a school’s counseling center.
The blue triangle on the bottom right represents the transition plan, which is required in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) by the school year when they turn 16. Goals in the IEP Transition Plan include further education/training, employment, and independent living as parts of a student’s program. A student with disabilities has the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) until they earn a diploma or turn 21. The IEP includes a target graduation date, determined by the IEP team. The state requires the IEP Transition Plan to align with the High School and Beyond Plan. School staff and the family collaborate to make sure these two tools match up to best support a student’s progress.
The teal triangle on top of the pyramid represents agencies that might provide Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services. The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) has a variety of school-to-work programs for eligible students: A DDA case manager can provide information about options. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) for students still in school as well as vocational rehabilitation services for adults with disabilities. As they transition out of school, members of some Native American tribes may access Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR) services. The Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) is a separate agency providing Pre-ETS for youth and vocational rehabilitation services for individuals who are blind or low vision. Staff from these agencies may work with an IEP team and counselors at school to make sure everyone is working together to support the student in the center.
Ideally a student with disabilities has people supporting all of the features on this transition triangle. Best practice is for all agencies and supporters to collaborate as they help a student move toward a successful adult life.
PAVE has made a fillable worksheet to help you answer these questions.
How does my disability affect my learning and ability to show what I know on tests?
What accommodations do I need to be successful?
What postsecondary education or training programs do my teachers and school counselors recommend for my areas of interest?
Talk Together About Your Concerns With Student Support Services
Where is the school located and does that school setting (urban, suburban, or rural) meet my needs?
If I cannot live independently, what is the distance from home?
Does the student/instructor ratio ensure I can access office hours with my instructor(s) as needed?
Not all programs provide the same accommodations, and colleges do not make modifications to alter academic requirements.
Does the program offer the accommodations I need to be successful?
Are the housing options accessible for my individual needs?
Do I require someone to assist with:
Self-help (like bathing)?
Managing my medications and medical treatments?
Nutrition and hygiene needs (laundry, washing dishes, cooking?)
Do I have a service animal?
Disclaimer: All content is for informational purposes only. The information on this page is not a substitute for legal advice. When it comes to the law and policy matter, please consult an attorney or advocate on your child’s behalf.
Military families are likely to switch schools more often than other families. This can require learning new rules and finding new resources. To help plan, here are four valuable tips for a smooth PCS (permanent change of station, which is the military language for “relocation”) with a special educational or medical needs child.
Tip 1: Organize your files.
Records are critical for planning and stability. Accessing records once you have left a duty station is far more complex than getting copies to take with you. Keeping track of your child’s records can make the transition to a new assignment far easier. With your child’s information and records organized and up to date, you can quickly find any new trends, needs, or program changes to consider when you PCS.
Save copies of evaluations, educational plans and programs, work samples, and behavior plans.
Monitor regression by comparing student work samples and grades before, during, and after your PCS.
Note what has worked to support your student through previous transitions and share these successes with the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), Individualized Education Program (IEP), or Section 504 team.
If your student comes from a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school, you may also have records and evaluations from a Student Support Team (SST) or Case Study Committee (CSC).
Tip 2: Know your resources.
When you are moving to a new place, it is important to know who can help you. Contact the School Liaison and Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) family service office as soon as possible. They have useful information about things that can support your child’s health, well-being, and quality of life, like assignment locations, schools, housing, and other essentials. In your new state, you can also reach out to the Family Voices program. They can help you apply for public benefits such as extra money (SSI) and healthcare (Medicaid). It is also good to know your child’s rights as a military student when switching schools between states. Learn about the protections under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children and use this Step-by-Step Checklist for resolving school issues with the Interstate Compact.
Tip 3: Keep open lines of communication.
Building strong communication links with your child’s teachers and other school officials can be critical. Remember to keep track of notes, emails, texts, and conversations. Always follow up on agreements with a note summarizing what was agreed to and any timelines. Building a solid relationship with your child’s teachers will help you address potential difficulties while they are minor issues and build trust among all team members. Discuss all the efforts that are helping your child. Keep communication lines open by responding promptly and respectfully, and reach out to school staff with positive feedback, as well as for problem-solving concerns.
Tip 4: Ask questions.
The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) and Individualized Education Program (IEP), or Section 504 Accommodations Plan, are the heart of how your child will receive services, accommodations, and modifications tailored to their unique needs. Never feel that you shouldn’t ask questions. Terms can change from place to place, but what the service includes will follow strict guidelines set up through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Since you will be the single consistent factor in your child’s educational career, the more you know, the better you can collaborate and plan within the IEP or 504 teams. Locate and contact the Parent Training and Information (PTI) center in your new state to assist you in navigating this process. Students and families in Washington State may contact PAVE for one-on-one support, information, and training through our Get Help request form.
Tip 5: Include your student.
All people need the ability to understand and communicate their needs and wants. The ultimate goal for our children is to help them become self-advocates to the best extent they are capable and comfortable. Providing them with tools early and on an ongoing basis will help them plan for their future. In the long run, it will help them to be the driver of services they need and want.
Services may be provided when school is not normally in session, but not always. Sometimes they are built into the school day. Typically, they are provided during summer. Holiday breaks and after school are options too.
Parents can keep notes about any loss of skill during a break from school. By tracking how long it takes to recover a skill, parents can provide data for a discussion about whether additional services are necessary.
ESY are provided at no cost to the family.
With summer coming, some parents worry that a child’s progress at school might be erased by the break. Some families may also worry that their child is on the verge of acquiring a new skill and that progress will be disrupted by an extended break. Parents can request a meeting with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to review progress and address the concerns. PAVE provides an article with a sample letter to help families request a meeting that isn’t part of the required annual IEP review process.
The team uses existing data and can plan additional evaluations to decide whether the student needs extra instructional time. The student might need supplemental instruction in an academic subject or to maintain a skill in speech/language, occupational therapy, behavior or another area being served through the IEP.
The critical question for the IEP team: Will learning be significantly jeopardized if additional services are not provided?
Extended School Year (ESY) is available for students in special education if there is evidence that without extra instruction they will fall significantly behind in specific skills. Falling behind is formally called regression.
Recovery of skills is called recoupment. A school will provide ESY if regression or likelihood of regression is significant and extra instructional time is needed for recoupment of skills. ESY services help a child maintain skills already being taught and are not provided to teach new skills.
ESY is not the same as summer school
Families often think of ESY as a summer program, but it’s not the same as summer school. A summer-school program might be structured to accommodate a student’s individualized ESY program. ESY and Recovery Services are individualized to serve the needs of a student eligible for special education. The program is structured to fit the student, not the other way around. See PAVE’s video about a student’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): FAPE Fits Like a Proper Outfit.
ESY is usually provided when school is not normally in session, but not always. The IEP team may decide that the services will be most helpful if built into the school day. ESY also can be provided during holiday breaks or as an extension of the typical school day.
Conversations about ESY can happen any time the IEP team meets to discuss progress and goal-setting. If ESY is determined necessary, the IEP document includes an amendment with specific ESY objectives. When an IEP team determines a child eligible for ESY, the school district alerts parents in a Prior Written Notice (PWN) before implementing ESY. If transportation is needed for delivery of ESY services, the district provides transportation.
ESY is not an enrichment program. It is not provided for credit recovery. It is also not a “compensatory service,” which is provided by the district when a student’s services have not met requirements for a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
ESY services might include 1:1 instruction at home, at school or at a district office. A student could also receive ESY as part of “related services” at a provider’s office. (Occupational and speech therapy are examples of related services.) Computer- and home-based learning are additional ESY options. Like all IEP programming, ESY is individualized. Service delivery is designed by the IEP team, and sometimes creative problem-solving is needed.
If the IEP includes ESY services and the family moves during the summer, the new school district is responsible to provide the services as they are designed in the IEP or in a comparable way.
The Washington Administrative Code (WAC) includes information about ESY in sections 392-172A-02020.
How are decisions made about ESY?
The IEP team decides whether a student requires ESY by meeting to review the student’s program goals and progress. PAVE has an article about goal-tracking. Parents or teachers may have notes about any loss of skill during a past break from school.
By making notes about how long it takes to recover a skill after a break, parents can contribute important data. Sharing that information earlier in the school year is ideal, so there is ample time for a review of data and any additional testing. Attendance information also is helpful because some disabilities create illness conditions that keep a child out of school long enough to fall significantly behind.
The school and family discuss whether the lost skills and extra time required to regain them is likely to create a significant barrier to progress toward IEP goals and learning in the future. This will justify whether recoupment is required to reverse or prevent regression. Those are the key words in ESY decision-making.
An IEP team might consider:
Documented problems with working memory from assessments
Demonstrated need for constant reinforcement over time, even during the regular instructional day/year
History from a previous year of losing skills and struggling to regain them after a school break
Need for constant reinforcement of a behavior support program when a student is at risk of being moved to a more restrictive environment without substantial progress around behavior
What does LRE have to do with ESY?
Special Education has Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) as a primary feature. In accordance with the IDEA, a school district is responsible to provide instruction in the least restrictive setting to the maximum extent appropriate.
Accommodations and supports are provided to allow for LRE. Therefore, LRE is part of the school’s obligation to FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). For some students, routine is paramount. Parents and teachers can discuss whether a break in routine might jeopardize the student’s ability to remain in their current classroom/placement. If yes, then ESY might be needed for the student to continue accessing school in the Least Restrictive Environment.
What can parents do if they disagree with the school?
ESY is not mandated for all students with disabilities and is not required for the convenience of the school or a parent who might need respite or daycare. There are no federal regulations on ESY eligibility. Some additional considerations may include:
Regression/Recoupment: Likelihood of regression or anticipating that it will take a long time to get a skill back can make a child eligible for ESY. A student doesn’t have to fully lose a skill or experience a long delay in recovering the skill to qualify.
Degree of Progress toward IEP Goals: Very slow progress toward IEP goals can meet criteria for ESY. Trivial progress toward goals does not meet the standard of FAPE, as established by a 2017 supreme court ruling.
Nature and/or Severity of Disability: Determination is not limited to a specific category of disability. However, students with more severe disabilities are more likely to be involved in ESY programs because their regression and recoupment time are likely to be greater than students with less severe disabilities.
Emerging Skills/Breakthrough Opportunities: If a critical life skill is not completely mastered or acquired, ESY services may ensure that the current level of skill is not lost over a break. A few examples of critical life skills: beginning to communicate, learning to read or write, self-care.
Interfering Behaviors: Some students receive positive behavior support as part of the IEP. When considering ESY, the IEP team would determine whether interruption of such programming would jeopardize the student receiving FAPE.
Special Circumstances: Sometimes there are special circumstances that prevent a student from learning within the regular school schedule. Districts have different definitions of what constitutes a special circumstance. Parents can ask for a copy of district policy and refer to WAC 392-172A-02020.
No sole factor determines whether a student qualifies for ESY. IEP teams review a variety of data, including informed predictions about what is likely to happen in future based on past experiences. A student who has received ESY in a previous year is not automatically entitled to those services again, and a student who wasn’t eligible in the past is not automatically denied.
Summary and Additional Resources
Some students require special education and related services longer than the regular school year in order to receive FAPE. ESY can minimize regression, so a child can catch up or recoup those skills. Parents who have concerns can discuss eligibility criteria with the IEP team. The sooner ESY is discussed, the sooner data can be collected and reviewed. Parent may need time to consider all options and to collaborate with the school.
As part of its Model Forms, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a downloadable document that IEP teams can fill out and attach to the IEP when a student qualifies for ESY services. To access the PDF directly: Extended School Year (ESY) addendum.
A website called Great Schools.org provides additional information about ESY and downloadable forms about IDEA requirements.
Wrightslaw.com provides information about the IDEA and legal findings on a variety of topics.
Everyone has moments when they hear something and pause to wonder, Is that true? This article and its companion videos describe some special education topics that may be misunderstood. Included is an explanation of what is fact.
Topics relate to special education eligibility, placement, support personnel, bullying, student discipline, and more.
Read on to see if there are things you haven’t quite understood about your student’s rights or educational services. PAVE hopes to empower families with information to make sure students with disabilities have their best chance for an appropriate and meaningful education.
The final myth described in this article is that PAVE provides advocacy on behalf of families—we don’t! But we can help you learn to be your child’s most important advocate. Click Get Help at wapave.org to request 1:1 assistance.
Everyone has moments when they hear something and pause to wonder, Is that true?
Parents/caregivers in meetings with their child’s school can feel particularly confused when something doesn’t sound right. They might wonder whether it’s appropriate to question school authorities. They might not understand all the words being spoken. Fear of not knowing something can make it uncomfortable to speak up.
At PAVE, we encourage families to ask questions and make sure they understand the words school staff use. Ask for important answers in writing, and plan to research explanations that are confusing.
For example, if you ask for something and the school says no because of a law or policy, ask for a written copy of the relevant parts of that law or policy. Try to understand the school’s reason for saying no. Write down what you understand and send a reflective email to school staff to make sure you understand their position correctly.
Having everything in writing is important, especially if filing a complaint is a possible next step.
This article describes myths and misunderstandings some people might experience when navigating school-based services for students with disabilities. These topics apply to students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), students with Section 504 Plans, and students with possible disability conditions impacting their educational access.
MYTH: The school must hold a meeting without a parent if the parent is unavailable before an annual renewal deadline because the student’s IEP, 504 Plan, or eligibility will expire or lapse. FACT: Parent participation is a higher priority than deadlines. Schools are required to accommodate parents/caregivers to ensure their attendance and participation at meetings where their child’s special education services are discussed. Those rights are affirmed in a court decision from 2013: Doug C. Versus Hawaii. If a meeting is delayed because a family member is temporarily unavailable because of illness, work, travel, or something else, services continue uninterrupted until the meeting. PAVE provies an article: Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.
MYTH: The school is not required to evaluate a student who gets passing grades. FACT: If there is a known or suspected disability condition that may be significantly impacting a student’s access to any part of their education—academic, social-emotional, behavioral, or something else—then the school district is responsible under Child Find to evaluate the student to determine eligibility for services and support. Child Find is an aspect of federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
MYTH: Section 504 doesn’t apply for a student without a plan or program. FACT: Section 504, which is part of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, includes protections for students with suspected or known disability conditions that warrant evaluation. For example, if a student consistently misses school for reasons that may be connected to disability, the school may be accountable under the civil rights protections of Section 504 if an evaluation referral isn’t initiated.
MYTH: Section 504 eligibility does not involve an evaluation. FACT: An evaluation process is required to determine whether a student has a disability condition impacting a major life activity. That evaluation process may include a review of grades, test scores, attendance, health room visits, parent and student input, teacher observations, medical or psychological evaluations, special education data, medical information, and more. If the student meets criteria, evaluation documents are used to support the design of accommodations and other individualized supports to ensure equity. The state provides a family-friendly handout, downloadable in multiple languages, to describe 504 eligibility, evaluation process, plan development, and civil rights complaint options.
MYTH: A student cannot be identified as eligible for services under the autism category unless they have a medical diagnosis of autism. FACT: If there is a suspected disability condition and reason to believe there is a significant educational impact, the school is responsible under Child Find to evaluate the student to determine eligibility for services. Schools have evaluation tools to determine characteristics of autism, its possible educational impacts, and student needs. Medical information might help an IEP team design interventions, but families are not required to share medical information with the school, a medical diagnosis is not required, and doctors may not “prescribe” an IEP.
MYTH: Special Education is a location within the school. FACT:Special Education is a Service, Not a Place, and PAVE provides an article by that title to further explain a student’s right to educational services in general education—the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)—to the maximum extent appropriate.
MYTH: The school district is in charge of placement decisions. FACT: The IEP team determines a student’s placement. If placement in general education, with support, is not meeting the student’s needs, the IEP team is responsible to locate or design a placement that best supports the student in accessing their Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Placement might be general education, a segregated classroom setting where special education services are provided, day treatment, alternative learning environment, residential, home-based, something else, or a combination of any of these options. Once an IEP team designs a placement, the school district has some leverage in choosing a location. For example, if an elementary-age student who is struggling to read needs individualized services from a reading specialist, the district might bus them to a school in another neighborhood where a specially trained teacher provides reading instruction in a smaller classroom. The district doesn’t have to offer every placement or service within every building, but it does need to serve the IEP as written by the IEP team.
MYTH: Preschool IEPs are not required to serve students in the Least Restrictive Environment to the maximum extent appropriate. FACT: An IEP is required to serve a student with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), to the maximum extent appropriate, regardless of age or grade level. WAC 392-172A-02050 provides specific language about state requirements for LRE, including for preschool students.
Adult Aids at School
MYTH: A 1:1 creates a “restrictive environment” for a special education student. FACT: Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) refers to placement. A helper is an aid, not a placement. Supplementary aids and services, including 1:1 support from an adult staff member, may support access to the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for some students. If having a 1:1 enables a student to appropriately access learning in the general education setting, then that support is provided to ensure FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). FAPE within LRE is required by federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
MYTH: Support personnel should regularly rotate in their roles to ensure a student does not become “dependent” on specific individuals or relationships. FACT: Healthy interpersonal relationships enable humans of any age to feel safe and secure. Because of the way our brains work, a person doesn’t learn well when a fight/flight nervous system response is activated. Connecting to trusted adults and receiving consistent help from safe, supportive people enhances learning. PAVE provides a collection of articles about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Washington State’s SEL Standards.
MYTH: A 504 Plan is a watered down IEP. FACT: Section 504 is part of a civil rights law called the Rehabilitation Act, passed by the US Congress in 1973. The anti-discrimination protections of Section 504 apply to any person identified as having a disability condition that impacts their life in a significant way. Public agencies, including schools, are responsible to provide individualized accommodations and support to enable the person with a disability to access the service, program, or building in a way that affords them an equitable chance to benefit from the opportunity. A 504 Plan at school ensures the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Section 504 FAPE rights are upheld by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. PAVE provides a video series: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More.
MYTH: Section 504 doesn’t apply to a student with an IEP FACT: Section 504 protections apply to students with IEPs and those with Section 504 Plans. The civil rights protections of Section 504 are threaded throughout the IEP, especially within sections that describe accommodations and modifications. Section 504 includes specific provisions to ensure students are not discriminated against within student discipline, by unmitigated bullying, or through denial of support that is needed for access to what non-disabled students access without support. All aspects of school are protected, including athletic events, field trips, enrichment activities, specialized learning academies, and more—everything the school is offering to all students. PAVE provides a comprehensive article about Section 504 and its protections for all students with disabilities.
MYTH: If the student has found ways to cope with their disability, they don’t need support. FACT: Section 504 forbids schools from using “mitigating measures” to justify denial of evaluation or support. A mitigating measure is a coping mechanism—for example, a deaf student who reads lips or a student with an attention deficit whose symptoms are improved by medication. PAVE’s article about Section 504 provides more detail about mitigating measures.
MYTH: The best way to help a student with a disability who is being bullied is to remove them from the bully’s classroom. FACT: Section 504 protects a student with disabilities in their right to be protected from bullying. That means the school must stop the bullying and support the victim to feel safe again. Schools may not punish or disadvantage the victim. OCR says: “Any remedy should not burden the student who has been bullied.” PAVE provides a video: Bullying at School: Key Points for Families and Students with Disabilities.
MYTH: An informal conversation is the best way to address bullying. FACT: The best way to hold a school accountable to stop bullying and support the victim is to file a formal HIB Complaint. HIB stands for Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying. Washington State’s 2019 Legislature passed a law that requires school districts to write formal HIB policies and appoint a HIB Compliance Officer to spread awareness and uphold the laws. Families can contact their district’s HIB Compliance Officer for support with a complaint and to ensure student civil rights are upheld.
IEP Goals and Process
MYTH: An IEP provides education to a student with a disability. FACT: An IEP is not the student’s education. An IEP provides educational services to enable a student to access their education. IEP goals target areas of learning that need support in order for the student to move toward grade-level curriculum and learning standards. Included are services for academics, adaptive skills, social-emotional skills, behavior—all areas of learning that are impacted by disability.
MYTH: If an IEP team agrees to change something about a student’s services or placement, the team must submit that idea to the district for approval or denial. FACT: An IEP team has decision-making authority. The team is required to include a person knowledgeable about district resources (WAC 392-172A-03095) so decisions about program and placement can be made at the meeting. If a required IEP team member is not in attendance, the family participant must sign consent for the absence. The family can request a new meeting because a key team member, such as a district representative, is missing. PAVE provides more information and a Sample Letter to Request an IEP meeting.
Behavior and Discipline
MYTH: A Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) is used to figure out how to discipline a student more effectively. FACT: An FBA is an evaluation focused on behavior. It helps IEP teams understand the needs behind the student’s behavior. A Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is built from the FBA to provide positive behavioral supports, teach new or missing skills, and reduce the need for discipline. PAVE provides a video about the FBA/BIP process.
MYTH: A school isn’t responsible to track exclusionary discipline if a parent agrees to take the child home and no paperwork is filed when the school calls to report a behavior incident. FACT: “Off books” or informal suspensions count as exclusionary discipline for students with disabilities. If a student with a disability misses more than 10 cumulative days of school because of their behavior, the school is responsible to hold a manifestation determination meeting to decide whether the behaviors are directly connected to the disability and whether school staff are following the IEP and/or behavior plan. If services or placement need to change, this formal meeting is a key opportunity to make those changes. PAVE provides a video: Discipline and Disability Rights: What to do if Your Child is Being Sent Home.
MYTH: A parent or provider who visits school to support or evaluate an individual student is violating the privacy rights of other students just by being there. FACT: Federal laws protect private medical or educational records. Visiting a classroom or other school space should not expose student records for inappropriate viewing. The Department of Education provides a website page called Protecting Student Privacy to share resources and technical assistance on topics related to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The confidentiality of medical records is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Understanding HIPAA and FERPA can help parents /caregivers ask their school for documented explanations whenever these laws are cited as reasons for a request being denied.
MYTH: Schools cannot provide individualized instruction in reading through a student’s IEP unless the student is diagnosed by a medical provider as having dyslexia. FACT: No medical diagnosis is needed for a school to evaluate a student for any suspected disability that may impact access to learning and school. An educational evaluation might show that a student has a Specific Learning Disability in reading, with characteristics of dyslexia. When a disability that impacts education is identified through evaluation, the school is responsible to provide services to meet the identified needs and enable appropriate progress. PAVE provides an article: Dyslexia Screening and Interventions: State Requirements and Resources and a video: Supporting Literacy for Students with Learning Disabilities.
MYTH: The school has to withhold credits for a student to receive services beyond a traditional senior year. FACT: Credits do not need to be withheld, and a student doesn’t automatically earn a diploma by reaching the required number of credits. The IEP team determines the target graduation date for a student receiving services through an IEP and how transition programming for a student ages 18-21 might support learning and life planning. Receiving the required number of credits is only part of what a student needs to earn a diploma, and the IEP team individualizes a plan for the student with a disability to earn their diploma within the state’s options for graduation pathways. PAVE provides a Toolkit for life after high school planning.
Private School and Home School
MYTH: Public schools do not have to do anything for students with disabilities who are home schooled or enrolled in private schools by parent choice. FACT:Child Find applies to all students with known or suspected disabilities who live within a district’s boundaries, including those who are home schooled or enrolled in private schools. Child Find means the public district is responsible to seek out and evaluate all students with known or suspected disabilities. If the student is found eligible for services, parents/caregivers can choose to enroll the student in the public school to receive special education services, even if the primary educational setting is a private or home placement. If the student is fully educated in the private setting, by parent choice, the private school provides equitable services.
Parent Support from PAVE
MYTH: PAVE gives the best advice and advocates on behalf of families. FACT: PAVE does not give legal advice or provide advocacy. We support families in their work. Staff from our Parent Training and Information (PTI) program provide information and resources to empower family advocates. Our goal is to ensure that family advocates have knowledge, understand options, and possess tools they need to work with schools to ensure that student rights are upheld and the needs of students with disabilities are met. Click Get Help at wapave.org to request 1:1 assistance. Help us help you by reading your student’s educational documents and having those documents handy when you connect with us!
Child Expert Ross Greene wants adults to rethink the way they support children who struggle with their behavior. He offers two reasons children behave in unexpected ways:
Greene says about 80 percent of problem behaviors at school are due to academic struggles and the rest are related to social inadequacies. To help children make good choices and participate in their education, he says, adults need to collaborate with children to help them learn the skills they need and solve problems that are getting in the way.
PAVE was among state agencies that collaborated to offer an online training for educators and families that Greene provided near the end of 2022. That training, Children Do Well if They Can, is available on-demand. Greene says adults are misguided when they presume children do well only if they want to.
“There is 0 research telling us that kids respond poorly to problems and frustrations because they’re poorly motivated,” Greene says. “That study doesn’t exist. There’s a mountain of research telling us that they’re lacking skills. What skills? Here are the umbrella skills: flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance, problem-solving, emotion regulation.”
Families that agree with Ross Greene’s approach can tell the school they want to follow this model in rethinking a student’s supports at school. The lagging skills and unsolved problems can be addressed through a well-built Individualized Education Program (IEP) with a positive behavior support plan, Greene says.
A key point is that “escalation” is downstream. The unsolved problems and lagging skills are addressed “upstream,” before a troubling behavior shows up. For example, an accommodation to support a student “when frustrated” is downstream. If adults instead figure out what problem is causing frustration, they can collaborate with the child to solve that problem and prevent frustration.
If, for example, a child is not learning to read at the same rate as peers, the child might need to be taught reading in an individualized way to have success in reading and regain confidence. That might solve a long-term problem. If the student instead takes a break every time they get frustrated, they might never get better at reading. The problem is pushed down the road.
The video, Children Do Well if They Can, is about 2 hours and includes comments by Washington State leaders who are proposing an end to isolation/restraint practices in schools. Greene’s presentation lasts about an hour and begins about 15 minutes into the video.
PAVE provides many resources to support families whose children are missing educational opportunities due to behavior. Type the word “behavior” or “discipline” into the search bar to explore other options. Here are places to begin:
When family members and school staff meet to discuss a student’s services, certain things have to happen. One requirement is for the school to take notes and share those notes with the family within a reasonable amount of time (usually a few days) after the meeting. Those notes are formatted as a Prior Written Notice (PWN). This document is shared after a decision is made and prior to changes in a student’s program.
For example, if the IEP team meets and decides to change a student’s placement (where educational services are delivered), that decision is written down on the PWN. The PWN includes information about how the team made its decision and when the student will start receiving services in the new placement.
Parents can ask for their positions and reasons to be included in the PWN
During a meeting, family members can specifically ask for their position to be noted in the PWN. For example, if a school district staff member recommends changing a service and the parent does not agree to that change, the parent can say, “Please include in the Prior Written Notice that I do not agree to this change in service.” Family members can make sure their reasoning is included along with their position.
Family members also can request changes to the PWN after a meeting if they disagree with the wording or if their concerns or positions are left out. They might also provide something in writing and ask for it to be attached to the PWN for the record.
If the school takes an action that the family continues to disagree with, the family member might use a PWN among documents filed with a formal complaint. The PWN shows how disagreements were managed and documented through the IEP meeting process and whether family participation in decision-making was honored.
Washington State’s educational agency is the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). On its website, OSPI guides families in what to expect in the PWN. According to OSPI, “The Prior Written Notice should document any disagreements with you and should clearly describe the reasons for this disagreement.”
PWN is an aspect of federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Sec.300.503(b)).
In accordance with IDEA, a PWN must include:
A description of the action proposed or refused by the school
An explanation of why the school proposes or refuses to take the action
A description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the school used as a basis for their decision
A statement that the parents of a child with a disability have protection under the procedural safeguards and how the parents can obtain a copy of them
Sources for parents to contact to obtain assistance in understanding these provisions
A description of other options that the IEP Team considered and the reasons why those options were rejected
A description of other factors relevant to the school’s proposal or refusal
The school is required to provide PWN to the family when:
The school plans to evaluate your child
You’ve asked for your child to be evaluated and the school denies your request
The school wants to begin or change your child’s identification as a “child with a disability”
The school proposes or refuses a particular educational placement for your child
The school wants to change your child’s educational placement
The school wants to change aspects of the special education or related services that your child is receiving
The school refuses a request from you, as parents, with respect to the educational services your child is receiving
Like all formal educational documents, PWN must be provided in the family’s native language.
For more information about PWN and other special education requirements, refer to the Procedural Safeguards, available for download in multiple languages from OSPI’s website.
Special Education is provided through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a student with a qualifying disability. The first step is to determine eligibility through evaluation. This article describes that process and provides information and resources related to each eligibility category.
Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is the “special” in special education. The evaluation determines whether SDI is needed to help a student overcome barriers of disability to appropriately access education. Learning to ask questions about SDI can help families participate in IEP development. To learn more, watch PAVE’s three-part video series: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504, and More.
Washington law requires evaluation referrals in writing. The state provides a form for referrals, downloadable from a website page titled, Making a Referral for Special Education. The person making the referral can use the form or any other format for their written request.
If a student is having a hard time at school and has a known or suspected disability, the school evaluates to see if the student qualifies for special education. A child is protected in their right to be evaluated by the Child Find Mandate, which is part of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
If eligible, the student receives an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Information collected during the evaluation is critical for building the IEP.
The school follows specific deadlines for an evaluation process. They have 25 school days to respond to the referral in writing. If they proceed with the evaluation they have 35 schools days to complete the assessment. For an eligible student, an IEP must be developed within 30 calendar days.
If parents disagree with the school’s evaluation, they can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) in writing. The school must either pay for the IEE or defend its evaluation and their IEE denial through Due Process. PAVE provides an article, Evaluations Part 2, with more information and a sample letter for requesting an IEE.
Complaint options and family/student rights are described in the Procedural Safeguards, downloadable in multiple languages on the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
Evaluation is a 3-part process
Not every student who has a disability and receives an evaluation will qualify for an IEP. The school district’s evaluation asks 3 primary questions in each area of learning that is evaluated:
Does the student have a disability?
Does the disability adversely impact education?
Does the student need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)?
If the answer to all three questions is Yes, the student qualifies for an IEP. After the evaluation is reviewed, the IEP team meets to talk about how to build a program to meet the needs that were identified in the evaluation. A summary of the most important findings is listed in the Adverse Educational Impact Statement on the IEP. Additional findings become part of the present levels statements, which are matched with IEP goal-setting and progress monitoring.
TIP: Read the Adverse Educational Impact Statement carefully to make sure it captures the most important concerns. The rest of the IEP is responsible to serve the needs identified in this statement. Families can request changes to this statement at IEP meetings. PAVE’s article, Advocacy Tips for Parents, provides information to help families prepare for and participate in meetings.
Don’t wait to evaluate because of provider wait lists
Depending on a student’s suspected areas of disability (see categories listed below), the district may need medical information. However, the school cannot delay the evaluation while requiring parents to get that medical information. If medical information is necessary for an eligibility determination, the district must pay for the outside evaluation. OSPI includes more detail about these requirements in a Technical Assistance Paper (TAP No. 5).
What areas can be evaluated?
When a parent signs consent for an evaluation, looking through the list of areas the school intends to evaluate is important to ensure that all concerning areas are included. Families can request additional areas to include in the evaluation, including a Functional Behavioral Assessment, for example.
Listed below are examples of skill areas that are commonly evaluated:
Functional: Functional skills are necessary for everyday living, and deficits might show up with tasks such as eating, handling common classroom tools or using the restroom.
Academic: Testing in specific academic areas can seek information about whether the student might have a Specific Learning Disability, such as dyslexia.
Cognitive: Testing to determine intelligence quotient (IQ) scores: verbal IQ, performance IQ, and full-scale IQ. These tests provide important data about a student’s strengths and weaknesses and can be important for IEP teams making decisions about how to adapt materials to ensure accessibility.
OT and Speech: Occupational Therapy and Speech/Language can be included as specific areas for evaluation, if there is reason to suspect that deficits are impacting education.
Social-Emotional Learning: Many evaluations collect data in an area of education called Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which can highlight disabilities related to behavior, social interactions, mental health or emotional regulation. It’s common for parents to fill out an at-home survey as part of an SEL evaluation process.
Autism Spectrum: Testing can look for disability related to autism spectrum issues, such as sensory processing or social difficulties. Testing in this area can be done regardless of whether there is a medical diagnosis.
Adaptive: How a student transitions from class-to-class or organizes materials are examples of adaptive skills that might impact learning.
TIP: Keep in mind that strengths are measured alongside challenges and can provide important details. An IEP should always include statements about what the student does well, and the IEP team uses this information to reinforce and build on strengths throughout the program.
Eligibility Categories of Disability
Areas of evaluation are associated with 14 eligibility categories. These are broad categories, and sometimes there is discussion about which is the best fit to capture information about a student’s unique situation. Please note that there is no such thing as a “behavior IEP” or an “academic IEP.” After a student qualifies, the school is responsible to address all areas of need and design programming, services and a placement to meet those needs. An IEP is an individualized program, built to support a unique person and is not a cut-and-paste project based on the category of disability.
Below is a list of the 14 eligibility categories, including some information about places to get further information or specific resources.
Autism: A student does not need a medical diagnosis to be evaluated by the school. If features of autism may significantly impact access to learning, then the school can assess those features to determine eligibility and special education needs. See PAVE’s article about Autism Spectrum Disorder for information and resources.
Other Health Impairment: ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome and other medical diagnoses are captured within this broad category, often shorted to OHI or Health-Impaired on the IEP document. Sometimes a Related Service is needed to assess a student because school staff do not have the expertise to properly understand a disability condition in order to make service recommendations. “Medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes” are written into federal law (IDEA Section 1432) as something schools provide at no cost to the family, if necessary as part of special education process.
Speech/Language Impairment: This category can include expressive and/or receptive language disorders in addition to issues related to diction (how a student is able to produce sounds that are understood as words). Social communication deficits also might qualify a student for speech services. The Washington Speech Language Hearing Association (wslha.org) provides Consumer Information on its website and published a downloadable resource, Guidelines for Evaluation and Identification of Students with Communication Disorders.
Multiple Disabilities: Students with complex medical and learning needs can meet criteria in this category. Depending on their impairments, a student eligible in this category might receive services in a range of ways that overlap with other disability categories. Washington Sensory Disabilities Services (WSDS.wa.gov) may have information and resources to support families and schools in these complex situations.
Intellectual Disability: A student with Down Syndrome or another genetic or cognitive disorder might meet criteria in this category. Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services manages the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) that provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). DDA’s Informing Families website and newsletter is a place for information and resources. A child with a disability related to I/DD may be identified early and receive Birth-3 services through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). PAVE provides an Early Learning Toolkit.
Orthopedic Impairment: OI refers to physical disabilities that impact access to education. PAVE provides an article about Related Services to help families understand services provided through school versus the medical system.
Hearing Impairment: Whether permanent or fluctuating, a hearing impairment may adversely affect a child’s educational performance. The Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (cdhy.wa.gov) provides information and resources for families and schools. Another place for information is Washington Sensory Disabilities Services (WSDS.wa.gov).
Deafness: A student unable to process linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, may be eligible for services under this category. The Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (cdhy.wa.gov) provides information and resources for families and schools.
Deaf blindness: A combination of hearing and visual impairments establishes a unique set of special education service needs. The Washington DeafBlind Program (deafblindprogram.wa.gov) provides information about seeking educational support and connecting with other families.
Visual Impairment/Blindness: Partial sight and blindness may fit this category when, even with correction, eyesight adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Washington State’s Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) is an agency that provides youth and adult services for individuals who are blind or low vision. Other places to seek resources and information are Washington Sensory Disabilities Services (WSDS.wa.gov) and Outreach services from the Washington State School for the Blind (wssb.wa.gov/services/outreach).
Developmental Delay (ages 0-9): This category can qualify a child for early learning (Birth-3) services in addition to IEP services through age 9. By age 10, a new evaluation may determine eligibility in another category for IEP services to continue. PAVE’s Early Learning Toolkit includes information to support families of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and children in early elementary school.
What to do if you disagree
The IDEA requires schools to use “technically sound” instruments in evaluation. Generally, that means the tests are evidence-based as valid and reliable, and the school recruits qualified personnel to administer the tests. The IDEA is clear that a singular measure, such as an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test, does not meet the standard for an appropriate evaluation.
Parents can take action if they disagree with the way testing was done or the way it was interpreted.
Parents can always ask school staff to describe their decisions in writing, and parents have rights guaranteed by the IDEA to informally or formally dispute any decision made by the school. The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) offers a variety of guidebooks that describe these options. In Washington State, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides state-specific guidelines for dispute resolution.
A student may qualify for a Section 504 Plan, if not an IEP
Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This Civil Rights law protects individuals with disabilities that severely impact “major life activities,” such as learning, breathing, walking, paying attention, making friends… The law is intentionally broad to capture a wide range of disability conditions and how they might impact a person’s life circumstances.
A student with an IEP has protections from Section 504; those protections are included in the IEP.
Sometimes students who don’t qualify for the IEP will qualify for accommodations and other support through a Section 504 Plan. PAVE has an article about Section 504, which provides an individual with protections throughout the lifespan.
PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) team provides 1:1 support and additional resources. Click Get Help or Call 1-800-5PARENT (572-7368) and select extension 115, English or Spanish available, to leave a dedicated message.
Parent participation in IEP process is a protected right for students with disabilities. If a student doesn’t have a family caregiver or legal guardian to advocate in their behalf, a surrogate parent is assigned to fill that role.
A surrogate parent is not paid and cannot be employed by the school system, or any other agency involved in the care or education of the child.
The provision for a surrogate parent is part of federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Section 300.519).
If a student eligible for special education services does not have a family caregiver, adoptive parent, or other legal guardian fulfilling the role of parent, then a surrogate parent is assigned to ensure the student’s rights are protected. The surrogate parent fulfills the family caregiver role on a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team and advocates to ensure the student’s needs are met.
A surrogate parent is an individual appointed by the public agency (usually a school district) responsible for the student’s special education services. Schools are responsible to assign a surrogate parent within 30 days after recognizing the need. Note that a child who is a ward of the state may be assigned a surrogate parent by the judge overseeing their case.
If a private individual, such as a neighbor or friend, has explicit written permission from the student’s parent or guardian to care for the student, a surrogate parent is not required.
A student 18-21 is responsible for their own educational decision-making unless they have a guardian to exercise their legal rights. A school district is responsible to assign a surrogate parent for a student declared legally incompetent or if an adult student with a disability asks for a surrogate parent.
A surrogate parent is required for a minor student when the parent cannot be identified or located or if parental rights have been terminated. A student’s parents are considered to be unknown if their identity cannot be determined from a thorough review of the student’s educational and other agency records.
A student’s parents are considered unavailable if they cannot be located through reasonable effort that includes documented telephone calls, letters, certified letters with return receipts, visits to the parents’ last known address, or if a court order has terminated parental rights. A parent is also considered unavailable if unable to participate in the student’s education due to distance or incarceration.
If a parent is too ill to participate at a meeting, either in person or by phone, that parent has the option of giving another individual written permission to act for them.
An uncooperative or uninvolved parent is not the same as an unavailable one. A surrogate parent is not assigned because parents choose not to participate in their child’s education.
A child identified as an unaccompanied homeless youth by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is an example of a student who would be assigned a surrogate parent to support them within the special education system. Children with surrogate parents might live in foster homes, nursing homes, public or private group homes, state hospitals, or correctional facilities.
In some cases, a state agency has guardianship of a student with a disability: That student requires the assignment of a surrogate parent.
Foster parents need to be formally appointed by the school as surrogate parents if they do not have legal guardianship. Relatives without formal kinship rights also can be designated as surrogate parents within the special education process.
A surrogate parent is not paid and cannot be employed by the school system, or any other agency involved in the care or education of the child. However, an unaccompanied homeless youth may be supported by appropriate staff from an emergency shelter, street outreach team, or other agency temporarily until a surrogate parent with no conflict of interest is appointed.
A surrogate parent must have knowledge and skills that ensure adequate representation of the student. A community volunteer, guardian ad litem, or other invested adult might serve as a surrogate parent. The surrogate parent must commit to understanding the student’s strengths and needs and how the educational system is structured to support the student’s services. Ideally, the surrogate parent lives near the student and is a match for providing culturally appropriate help in the student’s language.
The surrogate parent represents the student in all matters relating to special education identification, evaluation, and placement and works to ensure that the student receives a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) from their school-based services.
The provision for a surrogate parent is part of federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Section 300.519).
Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) includes some downloadable resources about the surrogate parent in its Special Education Resource Library.
PAVE is here to help all caregivers, including surrogate parents. For direct assistance, click Get Help to complete an online Help Request Form.
When a child has a disability, parents often learn that getting their child’s needs met requires persistence, organization, and advocacy. Advocacy is an action. A person is an advocate when they organize the work and press onward until a goal is achieved. Laws that protect the rights of students with disabilities also protect parents as legal advocates for their children.
Invite someone to attend with you. A friend or family member can help you take notes, ask questions, and keep track of your agenda.
Make sure you understand the purpose of the meeting. Is it to talk about an evaluation, review the Individualized Education Program (IEP), write a Section 504 Plan, consider a behavior support plan, discuss placement, or something else? If you want a certain outcome, make sure it’s within the scope of the meeting. If not, you may need more than one meeting.
Make sure you know who will be at your meeting. An IEP team has required attendees. PAVE provides more detail about IEP team requirements in an article that includes a Sample Letter to Request an IEP Meeting.
Consider anyone else you want to attend. Parents have the right to invite vocational specialists, related service providers, behavioral health providers, peer support specialists—anyone with knowledge of the student and their needs.
Get copies of important documents (evaluation, IEP, 504 Plan, behavior plan, etc.). Read them carefully so you can use these documents to organize your concerns and questions. Keep in mind that a services program/plan is a draft until after you meet.
If the school doesn’t provide documents with enough time for you to prepare, consider rescheduling.
Mark up a Draft IEP with your suggestions and questions:
Read the educational impact statement carefully. Consider if it accurately summarizes your student’s strengths and needs. If not, makes notes about what you want to add or change.
Note any changes you want under Medical/Physical or Parent Concerns.
If a goal is too hard or too easy, make a note to ask about adjusting it.
If a goal is written with jargon and impossible to understand, ask for an explanation and maybe a rewrite
Prepare to ask how teachers are using Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) to help your student reach IEP goals.
Read the services table, sometimes referred to as a “services grid” or “services matrix” to understand how often and where your student is being served.
Consider any questions you have about placement or access to general education settings. If you believe your student could be successful in general education for more of their day, consider what supports would make that possible.
Write down any questions about how the classroom or curriculum are adapted to be accessible. You might ask if the teachers are using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies to support multiple types of learners.
Write down your questions about progress and how it’s being tracked.
For an IEP or 504 Plan, read the accommodations carefully and make notes to ensure they are individualized and implemented to truly support your student.
Do your best to arrive on time to make sure there is time to address concerns. If you notice there may not be enough time to do this, request to schedule another meeting.
Make sure the meeting begins with introductions and that you know everyone’s job and what role they serve on the IEP team. If it’s important to you, when you introduce yourself you can ask team members to use your name instead of mom, dad, gramma, or something else other than your name when they refer to you.
Ask school staff to explain acronyms or jargon while they are talking because you want to understand what everyone says.
If an IEP team member is absent (WAC 392-172A-03095), parents must sign consent for the absence. If someone is missing and you don’t think it’s appropriate to continue, ask to reschedule. If key members need to leave before the meeting is over, consider ending the meeting and schedule an alternative day/time.
Keep focus on your student’s needs. Here are a few positive sentence starters: I expect, I understand, My child needs….
If you notice the conversation steering into past grievances, the district’s lack of funds, or what “all the other children” are doing, bring focus back to your child and their current needs. Try stating, “I want to focus on [name].”
Use facts and information to back up your positions and avoid letting emotion take over. Ask for a break if you need time for some regulated breathing or to review documents or notes.
Notice other team members’ contributions that support your child’s needs. Here are a few phrases to consider:
“I think what you said is a good idea. I also think it could help to…”
“I think you are right, and I would like to add…”
“I hear what you are saying, and…”
If you don’t understand something, ask questions until the answer is clear.
If you disagree about something and your comments aren’t changing anyone’s mind, explain that you want your position included in the Prior Written Notice (PWN), which is the document the school is required to send immediately after an IEP meeting.
If you hear something confusing, ask the school to put their position and rationale in writing so you can follow up.
Request to end the meeting if it stops being productive. Tell the other team members that you would like to continue working with them and ask to schedule another meeting. This might include adding people to the team to help resolve issues.
After a meeting…
Review your notes and highlight or circle places where there is an action or something that needs follow through. Transfer relevant information into your calendar.
When the Prior Written Notice (PWN) arrives (usually within a few days), compare it to your notes. Make sure all key agreements, actions, and IEP/504 amendments match what you understood to be the plan when you left the meeting.
If you want something changed in the PWN, ask for those changes in writing.
If you disagree with the outcome of the meeting, review your Procedural Safeguards (downloadable in multiple languages) and consider your dispute resolution options.
If you consider filing a Community Complaint, PAVE provides a video training to walk you through that option.
Consider contacting school district special education staff if they didn’t participate in the meeting and you think your team needs more support.
Consider asking for another meeting, Mediation, or a Facilitated IEP meeting, if issues are unresolved.
PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) program can help family caregivers organize their concerns and options. Click Get Help for individualized assistance.