Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer 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 of students in the new school. These things should not be big deals, right? Sure.
But, what if a student moving is in special education? How will their school move go? Things can get sticky or school services may stop altogether if parents don’t pay attention. Parents need to take action prior to relocating with a special needs student, to try to avert disaster.
Students Are Entitled to Comparable, Not Identical, Services at New School
Technically and legally, nothing huge should change for the student at their new school, as they are entitled to comparable services in the new environment.
What is comparable? That is somewhat of an open question.
Some services have no comparison, such as aides. If a student had a full time aide and were being mainstreamed at the former school, they should get a full time aide and be mainstreamed at their new school.
Classroom supports or placements may be called different things place to place. If a student had a Supported Studies class, this may be called a Resource class in a new location and may not exactly have the same level of support or be as small. However, this may still be considered comparable. It depends on the facts.
Related services, such as speech and language or occupational therapy should be the same, as there would be no comparable services, as these are usually provided by a licensed, highly specialized provider.
The student should basically be put in in the class with support which most closely meets the IEP services in the IEP document from their old school district.
California Laws Supporting Comparable Services When Moving Within State Outside the Student’s SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area)
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 section applies to students changing districts in-state, leaving their old “SELPA” (Special Education Local Plan Area).
Students moving in California and out of their prior SELPA should receive comparable services upon entrance to a new school district. They should have their old IEP either adopted or a new IEP developed within thirty days.
Moving Within the State but Staying in the Same SELPA
Students who move but remain within the same SELPA just keep their services going with a more seamless transfer and no new IEP or “adoption” of the old IEP required.
IEP Meeting Set Within Thirty Days
Within 30 days of entrance into the new district, if the student left their former SELPA, 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.
Federal Law on Comparable Services
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)).
Moving to California from Outside the State Requires Assessment
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)).
Whether Comparable Student Services Will Actually Be Provided Remains an Open Question
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, a parent gets a call from the school office verifying they know the incoming student is special education and the parent now believes all is well.
However, when the student arrives at school, there is no aide, the student is not receiving support services, and no speech and language sessions (supposed to be 3 times a week) are set up. Instead, the student is placed in a mainstream class with nothing more than a “hello.”
Steps Parents Can Take to Prepare for a Smooth Student Move
To try to avoid this scenario, parents must prepare far in advance of a special education student move.
Here are some potential actions a parent can take:
1) Determine what the new district of residence will be for the student who is moving.
2) Contact the new school district and verify the exact school the student will attend (sometimes schools are impacted). The school site may change depending on they type of special education services needed.
3) Speak to the administrator in charge of special education services at the new school/district.
4) See if the school can coordinate with the former school district and if they can request copies of the student’s records from the old school district in advance of the move.
5) Send your own copies of the current student IEP and any relevant assessments. Often when a student is moving, files will trail them, not arriving until sometime after the student enters, which could be problematic.
6) Call back to ensure receipt by the new school or district and review of the documents with the administrator to verify the services and supports being arranged, what site the student will attend, and all details.
7) Reconfirm adequate comparable services are in place prior to the student entering the new school.
8) Try to get in touch with the student’s future teacher(s) and service providers to alert them to the student’s entrance, needs, etc. and provide relevant documents to school staff as needed.
9) Go with the student on day one and ensure everything is in place. If not, contact the special education coordinator and/or special education director to get things moving promptly for the student.
10) Work until equivalent services (to the ones on your current IEP from the old district) are firmly in place.
11) Ensure that another student IEP meeting is set up within 30 days and prepare for that.
12) Remain diligent to ensure school services are continuing, checking with the student daily and school providers as needed.
There is probably a lot more which could be done, and this list is just an idea for how a parent may approach special education student moves. However, jumping on the situation and helping things along will ensure that the student’s school move DOES go smoothly. Unfortunately, I can’t help you with the cable (or internet) guy.
Special education student lawyer Michelle Ball has assisted special education students and parents since the 1990s. She can assist with IEP meetings, obtaining proper services and supports, and helping parents with this important area of need. Michelle’s office is in Sacramento California, and she can assist statewide in locations such as Lincoln, Los Angeles, Loomis, Placerville, Tahoe, Auburn, Roseville, Bakersfield, Elk Grove, and many other towns.