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Public Special Education Services

Public Special Education Services

To obtain public special education services, you must follow the following four-step process: 1) Refer your child for evaluation and provide written consent for your child to be evaluated 2) Evaluate your child’s disabilities by a school district’s evaluator or a private evaluator 3) Develop an Individual Education Plan 4) Receive a special education placement  

Step 1) Refer your child for evaluation and provide written consent for your child to be evaluated

The School Board is obligated by law to identify, locate and evaluate children who may be in need of special education. If your child has not been identified as having a disability and you would like to make a referral on behalf of your child, you will need to do so in writing. You will want to use certified mail, return receipt requested that will provide you with documentation that you made a referral and can hold the school to the stated timeline for special education services (typically two months). The City must obtain consent from you to conduct an evaluation within ten days of receipt of your referral letter.  

Step 2) Evaluate your child’s disabilities by school district or a private evaluator

Once the City has received your referral and consent to evaluate your child, the City is obligated to evaluate your child in all areas of suspected disability. The evaluation typically consists of a psycho-educational evaluation, a social history and a classroom observation. It may be also deemed necessary to conduct other assessments to determine whether your child will need speech and language, occupational, physical and/or functional behavioral therapy. A student must be evaluated by 30 days after you sign the consent form. You will receive a copy of the findings.   If your child is not evaluated within 30 days of the evaluation or you do not agree with the City evaluator’s findings, you can pay for a private evaluator to assess your child. Since they are expensive, you may want to see if your insurance covers the cost. You can also write your principal, indicating that you want to get a second opinion a the school’s expense. The school will either agree to pay for the evaluation or file a hearing in which they will have to provide evidence that the evaluation was adequate.   If you would prefer a private tester, you can find a list of qualified private evaluators at Advocates for Children (, the Least Restrictive Environment Coalition and Inside Schools ( If you are having trouble with the public school system, Advocates for Children has lawyers that will represent low-income families for free (212) 947-9779.  

Step 3) Develop an Individual Education Plan

Once your child has been tested and the evaluator determines that your child needs special services, a team of educators will work with the parents to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The IEP is a formal written document that addresses your child’s current educational performance, the educational goals for the following year, the special services with which your child will be provided, a statement regarding the least restrictive environment appropriate for your child, and a list of testing accommodations for your child. The IEP is supposed to be updated yearly. If you want to enroll in a public school, the team may recommend a school in your district, a school that has a special program in your district or to District 75—an entity that specializes in students with severe disabilities.  

Step 4) Receive special education services

The school district has 60 days to implement your child’s IEP once you have consented to the evaluation, and the placement must be located as close to your home as possible. If a placement is not offered within 60 days, the City is required to provide you with a Nickerson letter which allows you to place your child in a state approved non-public school at public expense.   New York City has launched the new continuum to place special education students in the least restrictive environment (stated on their IEPs) in neighborhood or district schools with specially trained teachers to help students function in a regular classroom. There are several types of program that serve students with disabilities, including:

  • Self-contained classes or special classroom settings: Although special education activists have successfully lobbied for laws that encourage inclusion, some students with disabilities are segregated from the rest of the students in self-contained classes and have little contact with the other students.
  • Special Education Teacher Support Services: Children attend general education classes, and a special education teacher works with the students for parts of the day either in the classrooms or pulls them out to another area to augment their general education classes.
  • Inclusion classes: This program integrates special education children with other typical students in general education classes. Some programs offer the student a full-time aid, or sometimes the aid will only attend a few of the core classes with the student with disabilities.
  • Collaborative team teaching: In some schools, regular teachers work with special education teachers to teach in a classroom in which a portion (general more than half) are regular students and the remainder are students with disabilities.
  • District 75: If your child has a severe disorder (i.e., autism, multiply disabled or severe emotional or behavior disorder), district 75 provides citywide educational, behavioral and vocational programs at 350 sites in the five boroughs. Call (212) 802-1500 to reach the district 75 Office located at 400 1st Avenue. 
  • Placement in a private school.
  • Related services: Additional language, speech, physical and/or occupational therapy.
  • Transition services: Services designed to help students with disabilities transition from K-12 education to college, employment or independent living.

Tips for School Tours

When you visit the different programs, look for small class sizes, the tolerance levels of the regular students in dealing with the children with disabilities, the comfort level with which the untrained teacher is working with the special education students and the extent to which the special education students interact with regular children. Even in self-contained classes, some schools find ways (i.e., field trips, recess, special programs) to integrate students with special disabilities with the rest of the student body