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An Overview of Special Education7 minute read • Oct. 13, 2023
Special education is designed to meet unique needs of children with special needs, ages 3 through 21. Special education is one part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which ensures 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 provide early intervention, special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities, ages birth through 21. The Department of Defense follows DoD Instruction 1342.12 Implementation of Early Intervention and Special Education Services to Eligible DoD Dependents, which refers to the IDEA. Start here to learn about the special education process, including eligibility, relevant laws and regulations, moving (including overseas) and graduating or leaving school.
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Explore services and support for your military family with special needs using this personalized tool as your guide. You can be your best advocate!
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:
Children qualify for special education based on guidelines set by the Department of Education, the state and, for those in a Department of Defense Education Activity school, the Department of Defense. If you suspect your child could benefit from early intervention services or special education, the Education Directory for Children with Special Needs is a great tool to find where to go to initiate the identification and evaluation process. Additionally, you can find checklists and other helpful resources in EFMP & Me, in the Education category.
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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.
Regardless of where your child attends school, these guiding principles are upheld:
- 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.
- 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, but the new IEP will still focus on helping your child meet their stated annual goals.
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 may vary according to the state and school district you move to. Hand carry a full copy of your child’s most recent IEP to facilitate the process of enrollment and transferring the IEP to the new school. In many states you may also participate in the Advance Enrollment initiative to pre-enroll your child in a school district before you arrive at your PCS destination.
School Liaison Support
Local school liaisons represent, inform and assist military families with school-related issues, including special education support.
See Moving With an IEP for more information. Parents can also take the Moving With an Individualized Education Program course on MilLife Learning and consult the Education Directory for Children With Special Needs.
School liaisons offer a variety of education support for family members with special needs, including help with transitioning to a new school, navigating the special education system in your current school or addressing general education issues and needs. School liaisons can also assist with referral to the DOD Exceptional Family Member Program.
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Listen to this podcast to learn how school liaisons can help with special education and find the resources and support available to your family.
The Department of Defense Education Activity special education website lists special education relocation suggestions and contacts for families moving overseas. Consult the Directory of Early Intervention, Special Education and Related Services in OCONUS Communities for information about specialized instructional services and supports at each OCONUS military community.
Parents should contact the responsible special education coordinator if a child receiving special education also requires:
- Special equipment
- Assistive technology
Reach out to your EFMP Family Support provider at your local installation to request a warm handoff to the Family Support provider or school liaison at the gaining installation. Visit Military Installations to locate your local EFMP Family Support provider.
Graduating or leaving school
Young adults with disabilities can find a number of continuing education and work opportunities within their communities. Transition services, or the planning for transitioning to independent living for a student with an IEP, must begin by age 16, as required by the IDEA or DoDI 1342.12. Transitional IEPs will include postsecondary goals related to training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills. Learn how to advocate for your child within the school system by contacting your Center for Parent Information and Resources.
The Exceptional Family Member Program provides family support, education and much more to assist you at any stage of your early intervention or special education journey. Other resources on special education include:
- The Special Education Fact Sheet.
- EFMP & Me. This online tool allows you to create customized checklists for your family. Review the sections on Education, PCS and Transitioning to Adulthood for resources and tips to help you navigate your family member’s special education needs.
- The Office of Special Needs EFMP podcast series, Season One, Episode 2 features experts on special education services and military life.
- MilLife Learning offers helpful courses about special education
Take advantage of available services offered by EFMP Family Support on your installation. Or, 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.