Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Moving your home is never easy, but some stuff should be smooth: calling to set up utilities, finding a local grocery store, enrollment in school. These things should not be big deals, right? Sure. But, what if your child is in special education? How will their move go? Things can get sticky or services may stop altogether. Parents need to take action prior to relocating with a special needs student to try to avert disaster.
Technically and legally, nothing should change for your child at their new school. If a student had a full time aide while being mainstreamed, they should get a full time aide and be mainstreamed at their new school. If they had Resource English class, they should have it again, at least for a little while. Sounds simple.
The California Education Code section which addresses moves, 56043(m)(1) states:
If an individual with exceptional needs transfers from district to district within the state, the following are applicable…
(1) If the child has an individualized education program and transfers into a district from a district not operating programs under the same local plan in which he or she was last enrolled in a special education program within the same academic year, the local educational agency shall provide the pupil with a free appropriate public education, including services comparable to those described in the previously approved individualized education program, in consultation with the parents or guardians, for a period not to exceed 30 days, by which time the local educational agency shall adopt the previously approved individualized education program or shall develop, adopt, and implement a new individualized education program that is consistent with federal and state law. [emphasis added]
This applies to students changing districts in-state, leaving their old “SELPA” (Special Education Local Plan Area). SELPAs may cover an entire county, one district, or a region. Students moving in California and out of their prior SELPA should receive equivalent IEP services upon entrance to a new school district. Within 30 days of entrance into the new district, an IEP meeting should be held and the old IEP adopted or a new IEP developed. As usual, if parents do not agree to suggested changes to the prior IEP, they may reject some or all of them.
Per state law, if a student moves within the state and within the same SELPA, the new District must adopt the old IEP and provide services unless the parent and new IEP team agree to develop a new IEP (CA Ed Code section 56043(m)(2)). In other words, the IEP continues and no meeting must be set.
Federal law basically states that a student changing districts during the same school year within the same state shall receive comparable services at the new location (20 US Code 1414(d)(2)(C)(i)(I)).
If a student comes from outside of California, comparable services must be provided, but a new IEP cannot be developed until an assessment is completed (CA Ed Code section 56043(m)(3)) unless the new district determines a new assessment is not “necessary.” (20 US Code 1414(d)(2)(C)(i)(II); CA Ed Code section 56325(a)(3)).
The only wrinkle in all of this is that the codes mention moves within the same academic year. No mention is made of a move during the summer, but arguably, the same things will apply whether a change is mid-year or during the summer. IEPs don’t just evaporate depending on what month one moves.
An interested parent might now think: “This sounds great, as all schools will know and apply the law to all students and ensure my child gets services from day one, won’t they?!” (crickets chirping) Unfortunately, its not always that simple.
Far too many distraught parents find that entering a new school for a special education student is a negative experience. For example, Mom gets a call from the school office verifying the secretary saw that her daughter (incoming student) is special education and Mom now believes all is well. However, when Jenny goes to school, there is no aide, she is not receiving her support services, and no speech and language sessions (supposed to be 3 times a week) are set up. Instead, Jenny is placed in a mainstream class with nothing more than a “hello.” If she is lucky, a school counselor will show up to greet her.
To try to avoid this scenario, parents must prepare far in advance of a move. Here are some potential actions one may take:
1) Determine what the district of residence is for the new home.
2) Contact the district and verify the school your child will attend (sometimes schools are impacted and there may be no space). The school site may change also depending on special education services needed.
3) Speak to the person in charge of special education services at the new school/district.
4) Ask them to immediately request copies of the child’s records.
5) Send your own copies of the current IEP and any relevant assessments. Often when a student is moving, files will trail them, not arriving until sometime after the student enters.
6) Call back to ensure receipt and review of the documents, to verify the services and supports being arranged, what site the student will attend, and all details.
7) Reconfirm services are in place prior to entering school.
8) Try to get in touch with your child’s future teacher(s) and service providers to alert them to your child’s entrance, needs, etc. and provide documents to them as needed.
9) Go with your child on day one and ensure everything is in place (you may need to take the day off of work or be prepared to). If not, contact the special education coordinator and/or special education director to get things moving.
10) Work until equivalent services (to the ones on your current IEP from the old district) are in place.
11) Ensure that another IEP meeting is set up within 30 days and prepare for that.
12) Remain diligent to ensure services are continuing, checking with your child daily and providers (as needed).
There is probably a lot more which could be done, and this list is just an idea. However, jumping on the situation and helping things along will ensure that the move DOES go smoothly, at least as far as school goes. Unfortunately, I can’t help you with the cable guy.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.