Students with disabilities are entitled to special education services, even if they are cognitively gifted, federal officials say.

In a memorandum to state directors of special education, the U.S. Department of Education is reminding educators not to leave behind students considered “twice exceptional.” This group includes individuals who have a disability who are also intellectually gifted.

“We continue to receive letters from those who work with children with disabilities with high cognition, particularly those with emotional disturbance or mental illness, expressing concern that some (school districts) are hesitant to conduct initial evaluations to determine eligibility for special education and related services for children with high cognition,” wrote Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the Education Department, in the recent correspondence.

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Musgrove instructed state officials to “remind each (school district) of its obligation to evaluate all children, regardless of cognitive skills.”

She also referred educators to a 2013 letter issued by the Education Department on the rights of twice-exceptional students.

At that time, Musgrove specified that students must only meet two criteria to be eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — they must have a disability that qualifies under the law and need special education services because of that impairment.

“It remains the department’s position that students who have high cognition, have disabilities and require special education and related services are protected under the IDEA and its implementing regulations,” Musgrove wrote at the time. “The IDEA requires the use of a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental and academic information about the child, and prohibits the use of any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability and for determining an appropriate educational program for the child.”

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