Last month the Office of Special Education Programs and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued a letter to state directors of special education regarding the critical nature of ensuring prompt services for highly mobile students with disabilities.  The letter emphasizes the importance of providing prompt evaluations and services to highly mobile children with disabilities as required under the IDEA. It concludes by listing over 40 resources available to districts to ensure quality educational services for highly mobile children with disabilities.

This advisory communication reminds districts that military connected children, migratory children, children who are homeless, and children in the foster care system often experience difficulty becoming oriented into new and varying school expectations and may have difficulty communicating their needs and concerns within these contexts. As such, schools are reminded that the IDEA requires that evaluations be conducted in a timely manner and without undue delay. In those situations where a child transfers to a new school district after their previous district has begun but not completed an evaluation, the expectation is that both districts will cooperate to ensure completion of the evaluation as expeditiously as possible. This includes the timely exchange of relevant records between the school districts as an initial important step in ascertaining student needs.

The guidance further points out that while the use of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) is a useful tool in identifying student needs, it should not be used habitually as a delay in an initial evaluation for highly mobile children. Because this population is more susceptible to experience recurring educational disruptions, implementing special education and related services can be even more critical to student achievement and success.  OSEP and OSERS jointly advise that postponing an evaluation to implement the MTSS process can be a denial of FAPE, resulting in significant compensatory service obligations. If a child transfers to a new school district during the same school year before the previous school district has completed the child’s evaluation, the new school district may not delay the evaluation or extend the evaluation time frame in order to implement their MTSS process. And although the new school district may choose to provide interventions as part of their MTSS framework, in those situations where an evaluation had been commenced elsewhere, extended use of the interventions could be determined to be a violation under the IDEA.

Finally, the letter recognizes the importance of providing ESY services to highly mobile children if the IEP team determined that such services were necessary for the provision of FAPE. This can be especially challenging when students transfer at the end of the academic year, however it does not appear that short notice to the receiving school of the right to these services will excuse the obligation to provide ESY.

What this means for schools: This is a great reminder of the importance of promptly obtaining educational records of transfer students. This is not only essential to ensure that an evaluation, once commenced, is promptly completed, but to provide continuity of services when the transitioning between districts occurs.