Preschool special education services can support children ages three to five with disabilities or delays in development. These services are provided free of charge to families. Preschool services can help support a child’s learning, speech and language, physical development, social-emotional skills, and other areas.
The DOE Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) manages the process for preschool children. There are 10 CPSE offices in different areas of the city. Families work with the CSPE in the district where they live:
Preschool services can start the year a child turns 3 years old. How the process begins will depend on whether
- The child received Early Intervention (EI) services;
- The child is attending a preschool program; or
- The child is in another childcare setting.
For details on how your family might get started, including questions to ask, read “Starting the Process” in the Family Guide:
If you are concerned about your child’s development, you can write a letter to your local CPSE. This letter is called a referral and it must be made in writing. In the referral you should
- Say that you are requesting a preschool special education evaluation;
- Provide your child’s full, legal name and date of birth;
- Describe any specific areas of concern about your child’s development;
- List any services that your child has received in the past;
- Provide your full contact information, including your name, an address, and a telephone number where they CPSE can reach you; and
- State your preferred language if it isn’t English.
After a referral is made, you will receive a referral packet from the CPSE, which includes
- A notice the referral was received;
- A list of evaluation sites;
- A consent for initiative evaluation form;
- Information about your rights; and
- A medical form.
For more information about making a referral, read “Referral” in the Family Guide. For help, contact your CPSE or an Early Childhood Direction Center (ECDC). You can find their contact information at the bottom of this page.
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Once you receive the referral packet, you should choose an evaluation site and set up an appointment. If your child speaks a language other than English, make sure you choose a site that offers bilingual evaluations. You will be asked at the first appointment to provide your informed, written consent for your child to be evaluated. If you choose not to consent in writing to the evaluation, your child will not be evaluated.
An initial evaluation includes
- A psychological evaluation that looks at what your child knows and at his or her cognitive abilities;
- A social history intervention, which provides background on your child’s developmental and family history;
- A physical evaluation, which is a health examination form often completed by your child’s doctor;
- An observation of your child in his or her currently school or childcare location; and
- Any other assessments needed to determine the physical, mental, behavioral, and emotional factors that contribute to your child’s suspected disability.
For more information on evaluations, read “Evaluation” in the Family Guide. For help arranging an evaluation, contact your CPSE or an ECDC. You can find their contact information at the bottom of this page.
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After evaluations are complete, a CPSE meeting will be held. At the meeting, the CPSE team will
- Review the evaluation results;
- Share and learn more about the child; and
- Determine if your child is eligible for preschool special education services.
The CPSE team includes:
- You (the parent);
- A general education teacher whenever the child is or may be in general education;
- A special education teacher and/or provider (if applicable);
- A district representative (the CPSE administrator); and
- Others with knowledge about the child or special expertise (evaluator, doctor, additional parent member, etc.).
If found eligible, the CPSE will develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP outlines your child’s current skills and abilities, goals, and the supports and services that will be provided.
After the meeting, the CPSE will arrange for the services to be provided, free of cost to you. Services will not begin unless you give your written consent for initiation of services.
Read “CPSE Meeting” in the Family Guide to learn more about your role at a CPSE meeting, details on how children are found eligible, what’s included in the IEP, and holding additional CPSE meetings:
There is a range of programs and services available to support preschool students with IEPs. Special education services fall along a range from less restrictive to more restrictive. Less restrictive programs allow children to receive services alongside students without IEPs. More restrictive programs are available for children who require more specialized supports.
The CPSE will always consider a child’s least restrictive environment (LRE). LRE means that your child will receive their services in a setting with nondisabled children to the greatest extent appropriate. The CPSE team will first consider whether your child’s needs can be met in a general education setting. Other settings, such as integrated and special classes, are considered only if your child would not be able to make meaningful progress in a general education class, even with the help of services.
Preschool programs and services include:
- Related Services (speech, occupational, and physical therapy, among others);
- Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT) (small groups or one-on-one in a general education classroom or child care location);
- Special Class in an Integrated Setting (children with and without disabilities are educated in the same class with a general education and special education teacher);
- Special Class (smaller class size of all children with IEPs); and
- Residential Placement (for children whose needs require 24-hour attention).
- Additional supports and services include a 1:1 paraprofessional, assistive technology, bilingual services, behavior supports, and special education busing.
The DOE is responsible for arranging all programs and services. For a more detailed description, read “Services” in the Family Guide.
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Transitioning from Early Intervention
Some children may already be receiving services through the Early Intervention (EI) program. EI serves children from birth to age three. If you would like your child to receive special education services after EI ends, you must refer your child to the CPSE. Your EI service coordinator can help you with this.
EI services are scheduled to end on a child’s third birthday. At least six months before your child turns three, your EI service coordinator should begin supporting you with the transition process. If the CPSE holds a meeting before your child’s third birthday and finds your child eligible, you can choose to end or extend EI services.
For more information, read “Transitioning from EI” in the Family Guide:
Program and Service Location
Enrollment in a program is based on a student's IEP and age.
Children with IEPs that Recommend Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT) and/or Related Services:
- If your child is four years old, they can receive services at a DOE general education pre-K program, and you should apply through the pre-K admissions process:
- If your child is three or four years old, they can receive services at a preschool program, Head Start, hospital, state facility, or child care location selected by the parent, or the home if determined appropriate.
Children with IEPs that Recommend Special Class or Special Class in an Integrated Setting:
- You should work with your CPSE to find an appropriate placement in a preschool special education program.
If your child's IEP recommends either:
- Special Class
- Special Class in an Integrated Setting
your child will be given busing to and from the program.
If your child’s IEP recommends related services, transportation will not be provided if those services can be given at your child’s:
• Child care program
If your child’s related services are provided elsewhere, it’s because the CPSE was unable to arrange for the services to be provided at these locations. In that case, we will provide—or fund—transportation to the agency if you need it.
For more information on funding for transportation, visit the Related Services page:
Read the “Parental Rights” section of the Family Guide:
Contacts and Resources
- If you have questions about your child's preschool services, first contact your CPSE:
- Early Childhood Direction Centers (ECDCs) provide free confidential information and referral for families and professionals.
Transition to Kindergarten
An important goal of preschool special education is to prepare a child to succeed in kindergarten. Children enter kindergarten in September of the year when they turn five years old. The kindergarten transition process begins the school year before kindergarten while a child is in preschool.