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Public School System: How to Access and What Services are Available
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Did you know that public schools can provide special education services for children starting at age three? If your child has been identified with special needs, learn more about how your local public schools can help.

Special Need boys in class playing on table

Public schools are required by federal and state laws to provide services for children with identified or suspected disabilities. These include special education individualized education programs (IEP) or Section 504 Plans. IEPs and Section 504 Plans are two ways for children with disabilities to get support in school.

To qualify for special education or a Section 504 Plan, your public school district will need to conduct its own assessment and follow the legal process of identifying any special needs of your child, which can be done only with your permission.

Get in touch with your local public school to find out about requesting an assessment. If your child is not yet kindergarten age, public school districts will often have a preschool center or phone number to contact regarding preschool special education.

Special Education

Special education assessments conducted by public schools are free. Whether the areas of concern are related to your child’s thinking, language, or motor skills, these assessments will examine your child’s strengths and weaknesses in a variety of areas. The assessment will look at the 13 special education eligibility categories under the California Education Code. These include but are not limited to: Speech or Language Impairment, Autism, Other Health Impairment, and a Specific Learning Disability. If the assessment and the evaluation team (including you) determine that your child meets the criteria for one or more of these special education categories, then your child will be eligible to receive special education services to support any identified areas of need. Special education services offer a variety of supports specific to the needs identified for your child. For example, speech/language therapy, specialized academic instruction, behavioral support services, deaf/hard-of-hearing specialized services, and more. Ask about the specific services and program options available in your child’s school district.

Section 504 Plans

504 Section accommodation plans also require an assessment and a team meeting to determine appropriate supports to be put into place for your child in the general education setting. Although they are not part of special education, Section 504 Plans can range in supports and services provided to students with known or suspected disabilities.

Find your local Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) for more specific information about special education and Section 504 Plans in your county.

Expert Tip: As a parent or caregiver, you’re an important part of the team to determine the right supports and services for your child. Share what you know about your child, ask questions, and keep an open line of communication with the school staff.

First 5 California
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First 5 California
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