The beginning of the school year is always a hectic time, particularly for families moving or planning to move to another school district. Parents of children with disabilities facing such a move have additional challenges.
Students identified as needing special education services have a right, under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”), to “a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education.” An Individualized Education Program (IEP) details the programs and services that a school district will provide to a student.
A student’s right to an appropriate education does not change from school district to school district. However, the IEP can change. When a student transfers to a new school district, federal law requires the new school district to implement a student’s ’s existing IEP—until the new district convenes its own IEP meeting and conducts its own evaluations. School districts have some flexibility in determining how they will provide a specialized and appropriate education for students with disabilities within their district, depending, for example, on the continuum of services they offer. This means that parents may expect possible future changes in their child’s IEP, if the child transfers to a different school district.
When a family moves to another district, parents should, at the earliest opportunity, forward a copy of their child’s IEP to the Director of Special Education or school official in charge of administering the new school’s services for students with disabilities. You can get the information from the District website or by calling. Once you have your child’s schedule, it’s also not a bad idea to send a copy of the IEP to the child’s new teachers, along with a brief note explaining the child’s unique abilities and learning challenges. In New York, the school district must provide all teachers with access to the IEP, but reinforcement can help.
Parents whose children are transferring school districts will have extra homework to do. These steps will go a long way toward ensuring that your special needs child has a smooth transition from one school district to another:
- If you have not done so already, ask for a copy of your child’s educational records from your child’s initial school district. Check the records carefully for inaccuracies or missing materials (such as private evaluations) and make sure that the records have been forwarded to your child’s new school district. Federal law requires that you have access to all your child’s educational records. You can ask for copies but the school district may charge a copying fee.
- Schedule an appointment to speak with officials at your child’s new school district. The new school district is obligated to implement your child’s IEP until the child is evaluated and a new IEP is put in place. If your child is moving out of state, keep in mind that state laws can vary on specific services under the IDEA.
- At the first meeting with school officials, ask about the special education services available in your new district and bring them up to speed on any updates, such as pending private evaluations you might have requested during the summer. Keep in mind, that it is also your child may have additional needs in the new district. For example, for a student with social skills deficits, moving to a new school district and the loss of friendships may require social skills support or counseling.
- Reach out in writing the Director of Special Education. Introduce yourself and your child. Consider giving a brief history detailing his or her educational experience so far. Describe your child’s strengths and weaknesses, favorite activities and other relevant factors.
- Discipline procedures may vary from district to district, although all must comply with the IDEA. Take time to study your child’s new student handbook. Explain the rules to your child in an age-appropriate manner so he or she understands behavior expectations, particularly if there are any changes. If complying with behavioral expectations is a challenge for your child, consider raising the matter with school officials early on in the school year and at IEP meetings.
- Take steps to create a smooth transition for your child. Sign up for the orientations and social activities that typically take place at the beginning of the school year. Find out if the new school district offers extracurricular activities, or clubs, or sports, that your child enjoys and take steps to ensure that your child has the opportunity to participate in them.