Schools have a special responsibility to provide continuity when students with disabilities move from one district to another, federal education officials say.
In a letter to state directors of special education this summer, officials from the U.S. Department of Education clarified that schools have a duty under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide comparable services to “highly mobile” students as they move between districts. This group includes kids from military families, those in foster care as well as migrants and children who are homeless, among others who move often, the department said.
“Ensuring a high-quality education for highly mobile children is a critical responsibility for all of us,” wrote Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs.
“While these children often possess remarkable resilience, they also experience formidable challenges as they cope with frequent educational transitions,” continued the pair who indicated they’re looking for assistance from schools in “improving the educational stability of, and post-school outcomes for, these highly mobile children.”
Prompted by concerned stakeholders to clarify the obligations that schools have under federal law, Yudin and Musgrove said they have heard reports that special education evaluations are sometimes delayed and extended school year offerings have been denied when children transfer.
However, officials said that under IDEA a child moving to a new school is entitled to receive services that are “similar or equivalent” to what was provided in their last placement. This mandate includes not only offerings provided during the traditional school year, but also any summer programming included in the student’s individualized education program, or IEP.
In cases where students transfer schools within the same state, such services must be provided until the new school either adopts the student’s IEP or develops and implements a new one. Similarly, when children move out of state, comparable services must be offered until an evaluation is conducted, if needed, and a new IEP is put in place, the letter said.
Federal officials urged schools to work together to ensure that children who move while they are in the process of being evaluated for special education services do not experience a delay. Ideally, schools should expedite evaluations for highly mobile children so that such assessments can be completed within 30 days, Yudin and Musgrove indicated.