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Understanding Special Education: The Basics

Understanding Special Education: The Basics

Finding a great school for your child with an IEP or 504 plan starts with determining his or her needs. Students with an IEP or 504 plan should consider all school types: public District, public charter, private Catholic and private independent. However, there are different rules for what services and supports the school types must provide for children with disabilities. Public District and public charter schools are required to provide your child with the educational services listed in his or her IEP or 504 plan.

Special Education in Public Schools

Children with disabilities have special rights in public schools (including charter schools), which require schools to provide services and supports to address their unique needs. Public schools create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan to provide special education to meet the particular needs of a child with a disability at no cost to the child’s parents or caregivers.

All public schools (including charter schools) are required to serve children with disabilities. Your child’s IEP team or 504 team, which includes you, will determine the support program and service levels needed for your child to make progress. Just like other educational programs, special education programs may vary from school to school. It is important to visit any school you are considering, or has been proposed, for your child in order to learn more about the programs that are offered. You may wish to speak with the Special Education Liaison (SEL) or special edpartment head to learn more about the school.

If you are concerned that your child has a disability or is not making progress, it is important to understand how to start the process to obtain additional support for your child in the classroom. Speak first with your child’s teacher and discuss your concerns about your child’s learning progress and observations. Learn more about the special education evaluation process here.

Transitioning from an Early Intervention Program to Kindergarten

For eligible preschool children ages 3 to 5 years old living in Philadelphia and areas of Delaware County, Elwyn SEEDS provides Preschool Early Intervention (EI) testing and coordinates support services. When children with EI services are of school age, Elwyn SEEDS coordinates the Transition to Kindergarten process, which begins a year prior to starting Kindergarten. Eligible children can have an established IEP that will provide support first while seeking reevaluation with the District or charter school. Learn more about transitioning from an Early Intervention here.

Applying to High Schools with an IEP or 504 Plan

Children with disabilities must have an equal opportunity to participate in the admissions process for public high schools. Some public schools have selective admissions requirements, such as minimum standardized test scores and attendance records. If your child has an IEP or 504 plan and you are interested in applying to a school with selective admissions requirements, you should contact your child’s school counselor about the LeGare process. The LeGare process sets different admission criteria for children with disabilities to ensure they are not discriminated against in high school admissions. The school counselor or case manager will prepare a LeGare folder that will include additional information about your child that is necessary for the admissions process. If you have questions about the LeGare process for high school admission, you can email [email protected]. Also, you can contact the Office of Specialized Services at 215-400-4170 or email [email protected].

Special Education in Private Schools

Unless a child with a disability is enrolled in a private school by a public District or charter school, private schools are not required to provide special education under an IEP. However, most private schools accept children with many types of disabilities and may provide additional academic and behavioral supports to these children. You should contact individual schools to discuss your child’s IEP or 504 plan and the available supports.

Stay Involved

Regardless of which school type you select, it is important to stay involved in your child’s education to assure your child’s needs are met. The school should regularly update you on your child’s progress. For public schools implementing an IEP, you must receive updates about your child’s progress toward the goals established in the IEP. By state and federal law, public schools must also begin transition planning for students with an IEP by age 14. Transition planning must include supports for a student’s education and/or training for high school and to seek opportunities after graduation.

More Information

If you feel your child is not receiving the proper special education services, contact the Education Law Center at 215-238-6970 to receive free special education legal information.

Please see the following pages for more detailed information about special education:


DISCLAIMER: This information, reviewed by the Education Law Center, provides a general idea of Pennsylvania and federal special education laws and should not be considered legal advice.


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