Under IDEA “eligible” children with disabilities, ages 3-21, are entitled to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The public school program for young children, ages 3-5, is called the Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD).
Who decides if your child is eligible for PPCD?
If your child is in an ECI program, your service provider will let the school district know that your preschooler may be eligible for public school services. This is the first step in the “referral process,” and it must begin 90 days prior to your child’s third birthday.
If your preschooler did not participate in ECI, but you suspect him or her of needing special education services, you – or any person involved in the care or education of your child – may make a referral. The best way to begin the referral process is to write a letter to the principal and take it your child’s school. The letter should include your child’s name and age, a request for a “full individual evaluation,” a request that the school contact you within five days to sign consent forms, and your contact information. (There is a sample letter on p.32 of the IDEA 2012 manual that you can use to format your request. See also our article on the Referral Process for more on how to make a referral and what to expect.)
In either case, the school district must have your “written consent” (signature) before it can begin the evaluation process. Be sure to sign and return paperwork in a timely manner to keep the process moving forward. Once the school has received your signed consent, they have 45 school days to complete the evaluation.
An Admissions, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meeting will be held to determine if your child qualifies for special education services. The ARD committee – which includes school administrators and teachers and the child’s parents – considers the following:
- aptitude and achievements tests,
- parent input
- teacher recommendations
- health conditions (including vision and hearing)
- social or cultural background
- adaptive behavior.
If the ARD committee finds your child eligible, he or she will be assigned a “disability code” (see Diagnosis vs. Disability), and an Individual Education Program (IEP) will be developed.
What will my preschooler learn?
Once eligibility is determined, the ARD committee makes decisions about the appropriate special education and related services for the child. This information is documented in the child’s Individual Education Program (IEP), which outlines what you expect your preschooler to learn over the next year, including measurable objectives and goals. An ARD committee will meet at least once a year to determine if the goals were met and to develop new goals for the upcoming year. (See The Special Education Process Step-by-Step to learn more about the special education process.)
You are an important part of the decision-making process. Be sure to familiarize yourself with TEA’s Prekindergarten Curriculum Guidelines. Knowing what is expected of typically developing preschoolers in Texas is a good starting point for developing your child’s IEP.
Don’t let your preschooler’s disability get in the way of high expectations. Within any preschool classroom, children exhibit a diversity of knowledge based on differences in development, cultural background, and previous learning experiences. The preschooler should begin at his or her own level with a plan that builds on his or her individual strengths and skills. Children with disabilities may need accommodations or modifications to the curriculum guidelines in order to benefit from them. Research proves that all preschoolers benefit from a language-rich environment that promotes speech and early literacy.
Also, an effective preschool program teaches developmental skills through active play. Play allows children to explore their surroundings, learn important social concepts such as turn-taking, appropriately express themselves, and develop confidence to try new things and solve problems in a safe, supported environment. Look for a teacher that interacts with preschoolers in child-initiated play that promotes appropriate social skills and language modeling.
Where will my child receive PPCD services?
Some people have the misconception that PPCD is a “place” – a self-contained classroom where preschoolers with disabilities are all grouped together. However, special education and related services can be provided in a variety of settings.
Under IDEA, preschool programs for children with disabilities should be delivered in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). In other words, children with disabilities should be placed to the fullest extent possible in the same setting as students without disabilities. It is often appropriate for special education services to be delivered in a regular classroom, where children have the advantage of same-age language and behavior models and the opportunity to develop friendships. When considering placement for PPCD, be sure to explore options that would offer your child a more inclusive educational setting.
When does PPCD start?
If your child is eligible for public school and his or her third birthday falls during the school year, services will begin the day your preschooler turns three. If your child’s birthday falls during the summer, the ARD committee may decide to implement the IEP through Extended School Year (ESY) services (which is similar to “summer school”) or wait until the beginning of the next school year.
How will my child get there?
Transportation is a related service that should also be discussed in the ARD meeting. The district is obligated to provide transportation if the child’s parents cannot. This also applies to 3-5 year olds who may not be attending the school’s preschool program, but who need special transportation in order to get to speech or other therapies they receive through the school district.
Beyond ECI (pdf) – DARS Div. for Early Childhood Intervention Services
TEA Services for Texas Students with Disabilities – Ages 3-5
Legal Framework for Children with Disabilities – Ages 0-5
State Funded Pre-Kindergarten Programs
You and Your Preschool Child – Toolkit developed by the U.S. Dept of Education
Early Childhood Education – What Works Clearinghouse review of interventions
Evaluating Children for Disability – A legacy resource from NICHCY at the Parent Center for Information and Resources
Division of Early Childhood (DEC) and National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) – Joint Position Statement on Early Childhood Inclusion
Inclusive Schools Network - Early Childhood Resources