The Special Education Process: Preschool

(Children 3 to 5)


Please note that this page is currently

being updated to reflect the IDEA

Regulations that took effect October 13,



The text of the regulations is available in .HTML and .PDF.

Step 1: Referring your preschool child for special education services.

If you feel your child has a disability and would benefit from a specialized instruction program, you can refer your child to receive preschool special education services.

How do I make a referral for my child?

To make a referral for pre-school special education, send a written request to the Regional Chairperson for the Committee on Special Education (CSE) in your region. Please click here for a list of the Regional Chairpersons for the CSEs.

Within each region, there are Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) Administrators that handle the referral process for preschool children. Click here for a list of CPSE Administrators.

You can fax the request (be sure to save your confirmation!) or send it by certified mail. The important thing is that you keep the proof that the letter was sent and received by the Region.

Who else can make referrals for my child?

You, the parent, can always make a referral for your child to receive services from the Committee for Preschool Special Education Services (CPSE).

In addition, referrals may be made by designated persons atÖ

*      The State Department of Education

*      The Region or Community School District administrative authority

*      Your childs school

*      Other public agencies that work with schools (for example, special education service providers).

What happens after the referral is made?

1.     The Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) will mail you a package containing consent forms and a list of evaluation sites.

2.     You must select an evaluation site and set up an appointment for evaluations.

3.     At the first appointment. You will be asked to sign consent to have your child evaluated.

(click here for more information about about evaluations and giving consent).

4.     If you give your consent, an evaluation will be conducted and you will be notified of the results.

A group of experts, such as special education teachers, will observe and interact with your child in a classroom setting and will also seek input from you, the parent, regarding your childs specific abilities and needs. Various additional examinations may also be conducted. Please click here for more information about evaluations.

The Department of Education will notify you of the results of your childs evaluation, and will ask you to meet with the CPSE to discuss them. If you feel that the tests administered were inadequate or disagree with the results, you can request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at the expense of the region. If you bring the results of the IEE to the CPSE meeting, the Committee is required to consider them when assessing your childs needs.

5.     The CPSE will meet with you to discuss whether your child is eligible for special education.

After the results of the evaluations are received, the CPSE will then meet with you to determine whether your child has a disability requiring special education. If your child is found eligible for special education, the team will draft an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that describes the services your child requires.

6.     Implementing the CPSEs recommendation.

The Department of Education must arrange for the preschool student with a disability to receive the recommended special education services or programs starting with the July, September or January starting date of those approved programs or no later than 30 school days from the date the CPSE made its recommendation. There may be no delay in implementing a preschool childs Individualized Educational Program (IEP).

Step 2: Parental consent.

Consent means that:

1.     You have been informed in the language you speak, or using other kind of communication that you understand, of all the information about the activity.

2.     You understand and agree in writing to the activity. Your consent describes, in writing, the activity to which you agree, including a list of any record(s) that you authorize to be released and to whom.

3.     Your permission is given freely and may be withdrawn at any time.

4.     However, actions that were taken after consent was given but before consent was revoked will still be considered valid (i.e., will be viewed as having been consented-to).

Your consent will be requested when:

1.     Your child will be evaluated for the first time by the Committee on Special Education (CSE) or Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) to decide if (s)he has a disability requiring special education.

2.     Your child is recommended to receive special education services and programs for the first time.

3.     Your child is recommended to receive twelve-month special education services (programs during July and August) for the first time.

4.     Your child will be reevaluated. (There are exceptions to this rule; see below).

5.     The school region proposes to use your private insurance. In this case, you must be notified that if you refuse to allow the region to use these funds, the region is still responsible to provide all required services at no cost to you.

6.     Another agency other than a school requests to review records about your child. The request for consent will include information about the records that will be released and to whom they will be given.

7.     You decide to withdraw a referral for special education for your child.

Your consent is not required:

1.     For the region to review, during the evaluation process, information that is already in your childs file.

2.     Before giving a test or other evaluation that is given to all students (unless parents of all students must give consent before the test is given).

3.     To conduct a reevaluation, if the school region can show that it has taken reasonable measures to get your consent and you have not responded.

Step 3: The evaluation process.

Introduction: What does it mean to have my child evaluated?

An evaluation is a series of tests designed to assess whether your child is eligible for special education services. Click here to learn about the specific types of tests involved. The tests may take place at or away from school, and are performed at no cost to you.

Even if the evaluation determines that your child is eligible, special education will not be provided without your consent. This means that even if you are not certain whether you want your child to receive special education services, an evaluation can still be a useful tool for learning about your childs abilities and needs.

After the evaluation is conducted, you will receive the results and can meet and discuss them with school officials. Your input should be solicited and considered carefully in determining what is best for your child. If you disagree with the results of your childs evaluation or want more information, you can also request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).

What kind of evaluations are necessary for my child to be found eligible for pre-school special education?

Specific tests that will be administered.

If your child is being evaluated for the first time, then the following tests must be included as part of the evaluation:

         a physical examination
         a psychological evaluation
         a social history
         observation of your child in his or her curent educational setting
         any other necessary tests (e.g., speech and language, occupational therapy, and/ or physical therapy evaluation(s)).

If your child is being re-evaluated, the evaluation may only cover areas where the child has a suspected disability, or where previous difficulties were determined to exist.

Who will conduct the evaluation?

*      A team of evaluators will assess your childs status and needs, and this team must include at least one person (such as a special education teacher) who is knowledgeable about your childs suspected disability.

*      The people who give the tests will be trained, knowledgeable, and certified to give them. Where feasible, the tests must also be administered in the language that your child speaks, or in a mode of communication that your child uses.

*      Most importantly, the evaluation must include input from you, the parent.

Click here for a complete list of the rules governing evaluations.

Goals of the evaluation.

1.      To measure a students abilities and traits in the following areas:

         academic performance/ learning characteristics
         social and emotional development
         health and physical development.

2.      To identify a students strengths and weaknesses in each of these areas, so that parents and schools will be better able to:

         Formulate realistic expectations for achievement.

         Discover which teaching strategies will be most beneficial for the child.

3.      To identify the language that should be used for instruction, and/or for any special education services.

4.      To collect and organize information that the IEP team can use to determine a students need and eligibility for special education services.

Complete list of rules governing evaluations: an evaluation mustÖ.

1.      Be administered with parental consent.

2.      Be complete in evaluating all areas of suspected disability.

3.      Be fair, and not discriminate on the basis of race or culture.

4.      Use more than one procedure to determine the students educational program.

5.      Use a team to evaluate the students status and needs.

6.      Include input from:


         A group of evaluators including at least one person knowledgable about your childs suspected disability (e.g., a special education teacher).

7.      Wherever feasible, the evaluation must be administered in the language that your child speaks or in a mode of communication that your child uses.

8.      The people who give the tests must be trained, knowledge, and/or certified to give them.

What is an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)?

An independent educational evaluation (IEE) means testing done by a qualified professional who does NOT work for the Department of Education.

If you disagree with the results of the regions testing, you may ask the region to pay the full cost of an IEE.

*      The region should respond to this request within a reasonable time and, when it responds, must provide information about:

         where the IEE may be obtained (including the location of the evaluation and the qualifications of the evaluator).

         any conditions that need to be met in order for the region to reimburse the expense of the IEE.

*      The region may ask you to explain why you object to the regions own evaluation, but you are not required to provide this explanation.

*      The region may ask for a hearing to determine whether its own evaluation was sufficient. If the hearing officer finds that the regions testing was adequate, you still have the right to pay for a private evaluation and to have the results of the private evaluation considered in determining your child's placement. However, the cost of the private evaluations will not be reimbursed.

*      If the region does not request a hearing, or if the hearing officer finds that the regions evaluation was inappropriate, then the region must pay for your IEE.

*      You have a right to have the results of the IEE considered as part of the development of your childs IEP, even if the IEE was not paid for by the region. The results of the IEE can be used as evidence in an impartial hearing regarding your child.

*      The region may not unreasonably delay your request, and should either: provide the IEE; or, ask for an impartial hearing to defend its own evaluation.

Step 4: The Committee for Pre-School Special Education (CPSE) Meeting



What is the purpose of the Pre-School Committee for Special Education (CPSE) meeting?

After your child has been evaluated, a Committee for Pre-School Special Education (CPSE) meeting will be scheduled with members of the CPSE, and other individuals, to discuss your childs educational needs. This meeting is directed towards reviewing the evaluations, determining whether your child is eligible to receive special education services and, if so, developing a document known as an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which outlines your childs disability, needs, and the services to be provided.

What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is an extremely important document that is developed during the CPSE meeting. The aim of the IEP is to outline a set of special education programs and services that will meet your childs unique needs. Among other things, it tells teachers and school administrators about your childs:

*      Disability and how it affects his or her progress in school.

*      Current performance in school.

*      All the services your child is entitled to receive.

*      Annual goals.

*      Testing accommodations and modifications.

In this way, the IEP functions as a roadmap for both you and your childs educators to ensure that his or her needs are being met.

How is it decided whether my child is eligible for special education services?

A pre-school student with a disability is a child who, because of mental, physical, or emotional reasons, requires special education services and programs. Unlike school-age children (children 5-21), a pre-school child is not identified as falling within a particular category of disability (for example, autism). Instead, the only category is a preschool student with a disabilityî.

In order to qualify, your child must fall into one of the following general categories:

*      Delay in Functional Areas. In this category, the student exhibits a significant delayî in communication, language, cognition, socio-emotional development, motor development, or adaptive behavior. This delay is indicated by:

         A 12-month delay in at least one functional area.

         A 33% delay in at least one functional area.

         A 25% delay in at least two functional areas.

         2 standard deviations below average in at least 1 functional area on standardized tests.

         1 standard deviation below average in at least 2 functional areas.

*      More ëPermanent Disability. In this category, the student falls into a more ëpermanent delay category, including deafness, deaf-blindness, hearing impairment, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, traumatic brain injury, or visual impairment.


Eligibility is determined during the CPSE meeting based upon the evaluations your child has participated in, progress reports, and observations. If the team, which includes you, determines that the student does not qualify, he or she will not be eligible to receive special education services.

Who will attend?

The following individuals must be included in the CPSE meeting:

*      A representative of the school district who is qualified to provide or supervise special education services.

*      A parent representative (a parent of a child with a disability who lives in the school district).

*      An individual who can interpret the evaluations.

*      If your child is transitioning from the Early Intervention Program (EIP), a designated representative.

Other individuals that may attend:

*      A representative of the municipality where your child lives.

*      You and anyone you invite who has special knowledge or expertise about your child.

Do I have a right to attend?

You are an integral member of the CPSE team that will decide which special education services and programs are right for your child. You know your child better than anyone else and you have valuable information to bring to the discussion. When a CPSE meeting is held, you, the parent, are a member of the team making decisions.  You should feel free to give information and opinions about what your child needs. You will work with the other members of the team to make sure that special education programs and services are provided to meet your childs needs.

For these reasons, the CPSE meeting is very important and you should make every effort to attend. If you cannot attend, you have the right to ask the Committee for Pre-School Special Education or the Community Based Support Team at your childs school to change the time or place of the meeting.

How should I prepare for the meeting?

You are an important part of the CPSE team and preparing for the discussion is important to ensure that your childs interests are adequately addressed. In order to get ready for the meeting, you should:

*      Obtain copies of your childs evaluations, as well as any related reports. Look them over. You are entitled to receive copies of these reports prior to the CPSE meeting.

*      Get to know the range of services and programs available. Click here for more information.

*      Get to know the nature of your childs disability.

*      Consider asking anyone who knows your child and may have relevant information to come to the meeting.

Where will it be?


CPSE meetings are generally held either at the regional office of the Committee for Pre-School Special Education or at the site where the child was evaluated.

Step 5: Placement and Provision of Services

How is placement determined?

During the Committee for Pre-School Special Education (CPSE) meeting, a document called an Individualized Education Program (IEP) will be written. The aim of this document is to identify a set of programs and services that will meet your childs unique special education needs. It is based upon all the information garnered in preparation for the meeting, including evaluations, progress reports, and observations.

The CPSE Administrator will locate a preschool program or service providers who can deliver the services listed on your childs IEP. You will be notified of the recommendation and have an opportunity to accept or decline the placement.

Some other principles are important in determining the appropriate placement:

*      Your child must be placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) that can meet his or her needs. Click here for more information.

*      Placements must be as close as possible to your home. Unless it would not meet your childs unique needs, he or she should attend the same school he or she would have if non-disabled.

*      Placements are to be made according to functional groupingî. Click here for more information.

*      Federal law provides that placement decisions must be reviewed on an annual basis. Click here for more information about annual reviews.


What does Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) mean?

Your child must be placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) that can meet his or her unique special education needs. To the greatest extent possible, your child should be educated alongside students who are not disabled and placement in special classes or schools should only occur when necessary to meet your childs educational needs. In the range of services and programs available to your child, general education is considered the least restrictive environment, while hospitalization or residential programs would be considered the most restrictive. Click here to learn more about the range of services available.

As a parent, can I refuse a placement?

As a parent, your consent is required for your child to be placed in a special education program or service. Hopefully, your active participation in the decision-making process during the CPSE meeting will ensure that your child is offered an appropriate placement. However, if you disagree with a recommended placement, then you should contact the Committee for Pre-School Special Education (CPSE) and ask for an alternative placement.

What services and programs are available?

For preschool children with disabilities, special education services can be delivered in your home, day care, a regular preschool program, or other early childhood program in which you have enrolled your child. The following table outlines the range of special education programs and services available to your child. Your child may be placed in one of these or, alternatively, recommended a mix of several services. Click here to learn what the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) means.


Service or Program


Related Services

Related Services are defined as "developmental, corrective and other support services" that are required to assist students with disabilities so that they can benefit from the lessons that are given to them. Related Services are intended to help your child do the following:

  • Meet the objectives of his or her instructional program
  • Get involved in the general education curriculum
  • Experience success in his or her classroom setting
  • Be educated with non-disabled students who are their peers.


Related services may include but are not limited to:

  • Counseling
  • Hearing educational services
  • Occupational therapy
  • Orientation and mobility Services
  • Physical Therapy
  • School health services
  • Speech/language therapy
  • Vision education services


Special Education Itinerant Teacher Program (SEIT)


Provided by a certified special education teacher for at least 2 hours each week. May be provided at any location, including a pre-school, daycare center, therapists office, or childs home. Generally, special education preschool children receive the services within their general education classroom.  The SEIT teacher comes into the classroom to deliver the required services.  However, SEIT is also often provided in the home when there are no preschool slots available.

Special Class in an Integrated Setting

Child attends school in an approved pre-school program that includes children with and without disabilities. The classroom usually has at least one special education teacher , one general education teacher and one paraprofessional. The two teachers collaborate throughout the day, ensuring that the entire class has access to the general education curriculum.


It is generally provided full-time, but may be provided less than the entire day, particularly where schools operate by changing classes on a subject-by-subject basis.

Special Class In a Community School

The child attends school in an approved pre-school program that has only students with disabilities. This setting includes children with disabilities whose needs cannot be met in the general education environment.


Children are generally grouped by similarity of educational needs. Classes may include students of different disabilities, provided they have similar academic and learning needs, social development, physical development, and management needs.

12-Month Special Program or Services

Some students may need an "extended school year" or a "twelve month school year" so that their progress during the school year is not erased during the summer.  Students at risk of sliding back may not be able to maintain developmental levels due to a loss of skill or knowledge during the months of July and August.  This loss may be so severe that it will require a reevaluation at the beginning of the school year to reestablish and to maintain IEP goals and objectives that they had already mastered at the end of the previous school year.


Candidates For Consideration For Twelve Month School Year Service:

  • Students with severe multiple disabilities whose programs consist primarily of habilitation and treatment
  • Students who are recommended for home and hospital instruction, whose special education needs are determined to be highly intensive, and who require a high degreed of individualized attention and intervention
  • Students whose needs are so severe that they can be met only in a seven-day residential program
  • Students whose management needs are deemed highly intensive, who require a high degree of individualized attention/intervention
  • Students receiving other special education services who, because of their disabilities, exhibit the need for a twelve-month special service and/or a program provided in a structured learning environment of up to 12 months duration in order to prevent substantial regression.


If a twelve month program or services is determined to be necessary for a student, that need must be specified in the students IEP.



Step 6: Annual Reviews and Transitioning to Elementary School

Each year, your childs Individualized Education Program (IEP) should be reviewed to determine whether the child is making progress. This process parallels that of the initial Committee for Pre-School Special Education (CPSE) meeting. If the team determines that your child still requires special education services and programs, then a new IEP will be written and an appropriate placement will be located.

Two other points should be kept in mind:

*      You may request a review of the IEP at any point you believe a change of services is necessary.

*      Your childs placement cannot be changed without notice to you.

Is your child about to turn 5 and is already receiving special education services in pre-school?

If so, then you should prepare for your childs transition to school-age special education. This process is often referred to as the Turning 5 Evaluationsî. Click here for more information on this process.



Transitioning from Pre-School to School-Age Special Education (Turning 5 Evaluationsî)

If your child has been receiving pre-school special education programs or services, you and the Committee on Pre-School Special Education (CPSE) will need to discuss your childs school program before he or she enters kindergarten. The process for this transition is outlined in the table below.

It is very important that this process is completed in the spring before your child enters kindergarten so that you will have a chance to visit and evaluate any placement recommended for your child. If there are delays at any point in the process (for example, if you have not received a notice of referral by February), you should contact the regional CSE.


Date (Approximate)



Informational Meeting. In November, an informational meeting will be organized for parents of pre-school children in order to explain the transition process. It is highly recommended that you attend this meeting.


Referral. If your child (1) has been receiving special education services in pre-school and (2) will require special education services in kindergarten, then the pre-school program your child attends should refer your childs case to the regional Committee on Special Education (CSE).


Notice. Shortly after your child has been referred to the Committee on Special Education (CSE), you should receive a letter titled Notice of Referral for Review of IEPî. This letter states that your child has been referred to the CSE and that his or her case has been opened.


In addition to the pre-school program your child attends, parents, surrogate parents, and other parties may refer a child for special education services. Accordingly, if you have not received this notice by February, you should make a referral in writing, in order to ensure your childs needs are given appropriate attention.


Turning 5 Evaluationsî. Once the referral has been made, the CSE will evaluate your childs need for special education programs and services. These evaluations are often called the Turning 5 Evaluationsî. In order to evaluate your childs needs, the CSE will look at reports from teachers and therapists, and observe your child in class. In addition, an updated social history and psycho-educational evaluation will likely be performed.


Want to know more about the evaluation process? Click here.


CSE Meeting. After the evaluation process has been completed, a meeting will be scheduled and a team will meet to determine whether your child is eligible to receive school-age special education services. If the team determines that your child is eligible, then it will write an Individualized Education Program (IEP) outlining the services your child will receive in kindergarten.


Want to know more about the CSE meeting? Click here.



Placement. If your child is found to be eligible for services and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) has been authored, then the Committee for Special Education (CSE) will locate an appropriate kindergarten program for your child.


Once a placement has been located, you will be sent a letter notifying you of the recommendation for placement. Click here to see a Sample of this document, often called a C-6î letter.


At this point, you have the right to visit the recommended school or program and decide whether to accept the placement.


If you do accept the placement, then you and your child have successfully transitioned from pre-school special education services to school-age special education services.


Want to know more about placement? Click here.


Want to know what will happen in upcoming years? Click here.