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An Overview of Special Education

Special education is designed to meet unique needs of children with special needs, ages 3 through 21. Military OneSource offers tools and resources to help you navigate the system. Start here to learn about the special education process, including eligibility, relevant laws and regulations, moving (including overseas) and graduating or leaving school.

Introducing EFMP & Me

Explore services and supports for your military family with special needs using this personalized tool as your guide. You can be your best advocate!

About the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that all children with special needs have access to a “free appropriate public education” and they have the necessary tools to meet their educational goals. The act governs how states and public agencies, including the Department of Defense, provide early intervention, special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities, ages birth through 21.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act assists with early intervention services for eligible children, birth to age 3, and special education services for eligible children, ages 3 to 21, in three specific areas:

  • Identification
  • Evaluation
  • Delivery

Children qualify for special education based on guidelines set by the state and Department of Defense.

Relevant regulations

The U.S. Department of Education uses specific regulations that implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in public schools in the United States and its territories. States then create guidance to supplement these regulations. You can find state regulations on state education agency websites.

The Department of Defense school system operates under Department of Defense policy as outlined in Department of Defense Instruction 1342.12, “Implementation of Early Intervention and Special Education Services to Eligible DoD Dependents,” June 17, 2015.

It includes these guiding principles:

  • Free appropriate public education. This principle makes sure every child, regardless of disability, has the right to attend a public school and receive an education tailored to achieve his or her highest potential.
  • Appropriate evaluation. The testing process is regulated so children receive the best individualized education placement and services.
  • The individualized education program, or IEP. This written document is created for every child in the public school system who’s eligible for special education. It’s drafted by an interdisciplinary team and reviewed every year.
  • Least restrictive environment. This principle requires that students with disabilities share the same setting, as much as possible while still meeting their needs, with students who do not have disabilities.
  • Parent and teacher participation. This principle establishes the importance of parents and teachers working together to achieve their children’s educational goals.
  • Procedural safeguards. These are in place to protect the rights of families with special needs.

Moving with an IEP

The act also protects your child’s educational progress when you move to a new school district. School districts must provide comparable services that honor the previous school’s IEP. Keep in mind, the new school district may not necessarily recreate the same program.

When a student with an IEP transfers, the new school must:

  • Provide free and appropriate public education
  • Include services comparable to those in your child’s current IEP

Resources vary according to location. In some cases, they may be better than those available at your last duty station. Reach out to the school’s counselors and teachers who will develop a new IEP for your child after your move.

Bring current copies of your child’s IEP and eligibility records before transferring to start similar services immediately in your new location.

See Moving With an IEP for more information.

Moving overseas

The Department of Defense Education Activity special education website lists special education relocation suggestions and contacts for families moving overseas. Parents should contact the responsible special education coordinator if a child receiving special education also requires:

  • Special equipment
  • Assistive technology
  • Individualized paraprofessional support

If you need help with a PCS, be sure to reach out to your local installation’s EFMP Military Family Support Center.

Graduating or leaving school

Young adults with disabilities can find a number of continuing education and work opportunities within their communities. You can help find these opportunities by calling your local state vocational rehabilitation program. Learn how to advocate for your child within the school system by contacting your Center for Parent Information and Resources.

No matter what stage of life, individuals with special needs deserve a quality education just like everyone else. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is in place to open classroom doors to every child and help all students to be their best academically. The Exceptional Family Member Program provides family support, education and much more.

Contact a Military OneSource special needs consultant if you have any questions or concerns regarding the care and education of your family member with special needs.

See the Special Education Fact Sheet for more information.

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