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Guide for Determining Eligibility and Special Education Programs and/or Services for Preschool Students with Disabilities

One of the most critical periods of growth in the development of a child occurs during the first five years of life. A child's interest and love for learning is shaped during the preschool years. While parents are the main teachers of the child at this young age, research and experience tell us that quality early education programs can make a difference and increase a child's opportunity for successful learning and later life accomplishments. This guidance document is designed to help determine the type of special education programs and services needed for preschool students with disabilities. It was developed with assistance from an advisory group representing early childhood special educators and therapists, parents, municipalities, statewide and regional provider organizations, academic experts and other early childhood education professionals. Providing special education programs and services at an early age helps prepare a child with a disability to enter school ready to learn.

This document provides guidance to preschool evaluators and members of the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) in developing individualized education programs for preschool students with disabilities that will result in student achievement and growth. It is important to identify the types of services, including the frequency, intensity, duration and location of services that are consistent with the strengths and needs of the child. This guide should be viewed as a planning tool for discussion and decision-making about the individual needs of each preschool child with a disability.

If you have any questions about this information or would like to share your comments, please contact staff of the VESID Special Education Policy Unit at 518-473-2878 or complete the evaluation form located in Appendix F. We are interested in learning how these guidelines have worked for you.

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The New York State Education Department is committed to ensuring the availability of a full continuum of preschool special education programs and/or services in the least restrictive environment to meet the individual needs of preschool students with disabilities.

Background

In January 1996, the Board of Regents endorsed a number of goals to reform the special education program for preschool students with disabilities. These reforms were based on reports prepared by the Department that identified the strengths and needs of the current administrative structure and implementation of the preschool program. A major goal for reform focused on increasing the delivery of preschool special education programs and services in more integrated educational or natural environments with nondisabled peers.

In 1996, the State Legislature amended New York State Education Law. The new requirements identified the continuum of preschool special education services and more clearly defined the roles of the Committees on Preschool Special Education and evaluation programs in regard to the provision of special education programs and/or services in the least restrictive environment.

The Department’s Least Restrictive Environment Implementation Policy Paper was approved by the Board of Regents in May 1994 to establish a clear policy on how local education agencies and the State were to implement federal and State requirements relating to the education of students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) substantially strengthened the assurances that State education agencies and local school districts must make regarding the implementation of LRE requirements.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Most preschool children with disabilities can receive the special education programs and/or services they need in settings with nondisabled peers. They also should participate in developmentally appropriate activities. The Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) must consider how to provide special education in the least restrictive environment, where a preschool student with a disability can learn close to home with other children of the same age who do not have disabilities. Programs and/or services may be provided at an approved or licensed pre-kindergarten or Head Start program, the work-site of a provider, the student's home, a hospital, a State facility or a child care location.

Preschool Guidance Document

The Guide for Determining Eligibility and Special Education Programs and/or Services for Preschool Students with Disabilities was written to assist professionals in evaluating children with disabilities and developing Individualized Education Programs in the least restrictive environment. This document is also a resource for parents to help them participate as full partners in the educational process for their child. Together, professionals and parents work as a team (CPSE) to determine each child's educational strengths and needs and recommend appropriate special education programs and/or services. This document provides information on assessing a child’s educational performance and determining the special education services that are needed (if the child is found eligible), including how often the services are needed and where they will be provided.

This guide is divided into three sections to help users readily find information pertaining to the individual evaluation, eligibility determination and developing the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for eligible students.