Citing concerns from stakeholders, federal education officials are telling schools to do more to help students with disabilities who move from one district to another.

Guidance issued this month from the U.S. Department of Education spells out steps schools ought to be taking to ease the transition for “highly mobile children” in accessing special education services. This category incorporates a broad range of kids including those from military families, migrants, homeless as well as foster children.

“While these children often possess remarkable resilience, they also experience formidable challenges as they cope with frequent educational transitions,” wrote Katherine Neas, deputy assistant secretary at the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and Valerie C. Williams, director of the Office of Special Education Programs, in their letter to state directors of special education. “These challenges may be especially daunting for children with disabilities and their families and have been compounded by the mental health, academic and other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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The guidance indicates that highly mobile children should “have timely and expedited evaluations and eligibility determinations.”

Education Department officials said that school districts should try to complete evaluations within 30 days, if possible, coordinating with other districts to quickly exchange relevant records and other information.

In the case of children with individualized education programs, or IEPs, that are already in place, comparable special education services should be provided when they move to a new district whether or not they do so during the regular school year or during the summer when extended school year services are offered.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, comparable services are provided until a child’s new school districts adopts their existing IEP or creates a new one in the case of an in-state move. If a student moves to a new state, comparable services remain in place until the new school district conducts its own evaluation and implements a new IEP, if appropriate.

“It has come to our attention that when some children transfer to a new school district during the summer, the new school district will not provide those children with ESY services as comparable services, because the new school district believes that its obligation to provide comparable services is limited to those services that the child would receive during the normal school year,” reads the letter from Neas and Williams. “The new school district may not refuse to provide ESY services to that child merely because the services would be provided during the summer. While the determination of comparable services is made on an individual basis, the new school district’s IEP team may not arbitrarily, or due to limited availability, decrease the level of services to be provided to the child as comparable services.”

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