Click on a specific question to jump to the response to that question:
Who to reach out to for help
New to special education
Your child’s rights
What to expect this school year
Supporting your child and family this school year
Who to reach out to for help
1. I have concerns about the development of my child younger than age 3. Who can I reach out to for support?
You, your family or your child’s doctor may notice your child is developing differently than other children. This can be stressful, but there are resources to support you.
If you have any concerns, contact Strong Start, DC’s early intervention program, by calling (202) 727-3665. Strong Start is run through OSSE and offers free supports and services to infants and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays and their families. Their team will explain your rights, determine if your child is eligible for early intervention services, and support you in building your confidence in everyday settings to promote your child’s learning. This Strong Start Road Map explains each step in the process.
Some examples of services available are:
- Developmental evaluations
- Speech, physical, occupational and developmental therapies
- Hearing or vision services
- Service coordination
For more information about young children, you can check out these resources:
- Strong Start Brochure
- CDC’s Developmental Milestones
- Families Have Rights: IDEA Part C Procedural Safeguards
2. I have concerns about the development of my child age 3-5. Who can I reach out to for support?
If you have concerns about your child age 3-5, DCPS Early Stages is here to support you.
Anyone may refer a child between the ages of 2 years 8 months and 5 years 10 months for a developmental screening. The special education evaluation process will only begin after a parent/ guardian has provided written consent.
To refer a child to Early Stages,
- Fill out the online referral form (strongly preferred);
- Email a completed referral form to [email protected];
- Call us at (202) 698-8037; or
- Or fax a completed referral form to (202) 654-6079.
For more information on Early Stages’ current operating status please visit: https://www.earlystagesdc.org/
3. My child is struggling in school. How do I find out if my child needs special education resources?
It can be stressful to see your child struggle in school. If you think your child might have a disability, there is a process to see whether special education services may help them. You can start this process by talking to your child’s teacher. Bring up your concerns and ask for an “evaluation” for your child. Your request starts the process as follows:
- Referral: The school will start by reviewing all of your child’s information. This review is to determine if the information leads them to suspect that your child might have a disability.
- If they do suspect your child might have a disability, they will ask for your consent for an evaluation. This means you move to the next step below.
- If they decide the information does not raise concerns about a possible disability, they will send you written notice of that. This means your child will not move forward with an evaluation. If they decide not to evaluate your child and you disagree, you have options to dispute this decision.
- Evaluation: Your school will bring together a team to determine if your child has a disability that qualifies them for special education. This team will review the information they have about your child and may need to gather new information to complete the evaluation. They might gather new information by giving your child an education or psychological assessment.
- Eligibility: A team of professionals will meet with you to talk about the evaluation. They will discuss with you whether or not your child “qualifies” for special education services. Qualification is based on the law for special education. The federal law for special education is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Whether or not your child qualifies, they will talk to you about next steps.
- Create an Individualized Education Program (IEP): If your child qualifies for special education, an IEP will be developed for your child. The IEP is a written document that includes your child's goals, strengths and unique needs. It will describe the services and supports your school will provide to help your child reach these goals. This document will be created by your child’s IEP team. As a parent, you are an equal member of this team. It is your choice whether or not your child receives special education services.
If your child does not need special education services, they still might benefit from other supports. These other supports may be part of a "504 plan." For more information, you can talk to your child’s school or read more on OSSE’s Section 504 website.
The timeline for these steps in the process may be delayed due to COVID-19. For example, not being able to meet in person may make it difficult to complete an evaluation. Your school should work with you to consider creative and flexible options to complete evaluations when possible. If moving forward is impossible, you should receive written notice of this from your school. You may also work with your school to agree upon a new due date.
These resources have more information:
- OSSE Special Education Parent Brochure
- Understood.org - 6 Benefits of Having Your Child Evaluated
- Office of the Student Advocate - Parent & Family Go-To Guide
New to special education
4. My child has just been diagnosed with a disability. What resources are available to help me learn about what this means?
There are many resources available to help you learn more and support your child. Here are some that might be helpful:
Resources to review:
- Questions Often Asked by Parents about Special Education Services
- Understood.org is a resource to learn more about specific disability types and to connect with other families. Some helpful links on their website are:
- Understanding Special Education
- The 13 Disability Categories Under IDEA
- Understanding IEPs
- List of terms and definitions
People to talk to:
- Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE) is DC’s parent training and information center for families of students with disabilities.
- The DC State Advisory Panel on Special Education (SAPSE) meetings are open to the public and are a great way to connect with other families.
Your child's rights
5. My child has a diagnosed disability. What support should I expect from their school?
Your school will give your child a specially designed education at no cost to you that meets your child’s unique needs. This will include:
- Your child will receive specially designed instruction. Depending on their needs, they may also qualify for services like speech therapy or counseling.
- A team made up of teachers and others, including you the parent, decides what services and support the student gets.
- The plan for providing this education must be written down in an individualized education program (IEP).
- Your school will provide you with reports or updates on your child’s progress throughout the year. You can also discuss any concerns you have.
- You as a parent may be able to receive training as part of your child’s IEP to help you understand and assist with your child’s special needs.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law, guarantees this right to a “free and appropriate public education” (also known as FAPE) for children with disabilities. This right applies whether your child is enrolled in a DCPS school or a DC public charter school, or attending a nonpublic special education school.
The IDEA also guarantees many other rights, known as “procedural safeguards,” to ensure that your child receives FAPE. OSSE’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards has more detailed descriptions of these rights.
COVID-19 does not change your child’s rights. These are the same whether your child is learning at school or virtually. However, special education might look and feel different for your child this year. The question, “What support can I expect from my child’s school in the upcoming school year, given COVID-19?” offers more information about this.
If you have questions, contact your child’s teacher or special education coordinator.
What to expect this school year
6. Can my child continue with distance learning for the 2021-22 school year?
Due to the critical benefits of in-person learning and the robust health and safety protocols in place in our schools to support the wellbeing of students, staff and families, distance learning in the 2021-22 school year will only be available to students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade with a documented physical or mental health condition that requires distance learning due to COVID-19. Students with a health condition that requires distance learning must submit a COVID-19 Medical Consent and Certification for Distance Learning, completed by the parent or guardian and licensed physician or nurse practitioner.
For more information on medical exemptions, please see OSSE’s COVID-19 Resources for Students and Families.
7. If my child
must learn from home for part or all of the 2021-22 school year, how will my school help them?
Your school must continue providing special education no matter the circumstances, including if your child has received permission to learn from home due to a health condition, or in the instance that your child’s school temporarily closes in response to a public health concern while continuing to attend school virtually.
If your school building must temporarily close or your child’s doctor says your child should stay home this year, your child’s individualized education program (IEP) team will help.
Individual home instruction can be delivered in many ways, below are some of several options your child’s IEP team will consider. This can include things like:
Your child’s IEP team will work with you on planning for your child to learn at home. This will include getting the special education required by your child's IEP that can be delivered through a distance learning model, while balancing the health and safety needs of your family. This may mean that some, but not all, of your child’s IEP services will be delivered while your child is learning at home. This may also mean that IEP services may look different than they have before. For example, your child may receive only a portion of their IEP-required specialized instruction hours, based on how many hours of virtual classroom time your child is attending, or your child may receive speech and language services alone with the therapist instead of in a group with their peers. You should discuss with your child’s school how these services will be provided during this school year.
Remember that home instruction as part of an IEP is not the same as homeschooling. Students receiving home instruction are still enrolled at their DC school. Homeschooled students do not get any special education or services from DC schools.
8. What support can I expect from my child’s school in the 2021-22 school year?
Your school has been hard at work planning for this school year. Below are key things to keep in mind about what you and your child can expect from your school. If you have any questions, contact your school.
Here you can find school contact information:
2. Your school should partner with you, as needed, to review and update your child’s IEP. If necessary for your child, this process should consider how your child’s needs may have changed and how your child’s IEP supports them in accessing accelerated learning. It should also consider your needs as a parent for training to support your child
3. Your school should assess your child’s learning levels at the start of the year and share those results with you. Your child’s school should collect student data to better understand how your child’s needs may have changed. Schools may use a variety of tools to assess students, for example, informal screening tools, formative assessments or tests, or by reviewing student progress data.
Supporting your child and family this school year
9. Where can I find information on school plans to assess interrupted instruction and to accelerate learning?
You should contact your child's school to discuss plans and specific strategies for accelerating learning for your child.
10. Where can I find more information on medical exemptions to in-person learning?
11. How can I advocate for services and supports for me and my child at their school?
Office of the Student Advocate - Supports DC students and families through parent education, coaching, resources and training.
Office of the Ombudsman - A neutral office that uses mediation and conflict resolution to help families with concerns about public education in DC.
Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE) - DC’s Parent Training and Information Center. They help parents advocate on behalf of their children and provide parent training and resources.
12. Where do I go if my child and I are not getting the support we need from my school?
Facilitated IEP Meeting - an IEP team meeting led by a neutral person. This is likely the first step you should consider. It gives you a chance to solve problems quickly among the people who know your child best.
Mediation - a conversation with the school led by a neutral third person. The goal is for you and the school to come to an agreement. This is often faster than due process.
Due Process Hearing - both you and the school share their respective point of view through witnesses and relevant documents presented to a neutral hearing officer. The hearing officer makes the decision. This can be appealed to court.
State Complaint - you file a written complaint to OSSE and an investigation takes place to see if the law has been broken.
13. What can my family do to manage stress and wellness during this time?
Resources from the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH):
You can call DC’s Access HelpLine, 1(888) 7WE-HELP or 1(888)793-4357.
This one-page behavioral health flyer explains the types of supports available.
DBH runs the Parent Support Program, including an online parent support group called Wellness Wednesdays and individualized consultations, as well as other resources.
The Department of Behavioral Health has more information and resources.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a resource page to help students and families.
Interested in more support for your child? Call your school and ask to be connected with the “Behavioral Health Coordinator.” They can help connect your student to services.
DCPS Parent University Online has virtual workshops for all families in DC. The workshop schedule and past recordings are available online.
If you care for a child younger than age 6, you can participate in the online Positive Parenting Program. This program is provided by the DC Department of Behavioral Health. This program will help you practice handling challenging situations. To access the program, enter “dcparents” as the enrollment key when you create an account.
The State Advisory Panel on Special Education (SAPSE) has open meetings where you can meet other families.
The Family and Youth Engagement Committee on DC School Behavioral Health is a space for parents to share experiences, concerns, and ideas. The committee meets every third Friday of the month. You can email
Ronald LaFleur at [email protected]for the virtual meeting link.
Understood.org’s collection of stories shares how families of students with disabilities are coping with COVID-19.