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NEWLY UPDATED: Guidance on School Obligations to Highly Mobile Children with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education recently issued a Letter to State Directors of Special Education on Ensuring a High-Quality Education for Highly Mobile Children, updating guidance and resources originally set forth in the Department’s July 19, 2013 Dear Colleague Letter. The purpose of the letter is to provide a list of resources and reminders to States to improve the educational stability and outcomes for highly mobile children with disabilities under the IDEA. Highly mobile children are youths who experience frequent moves into new districts, due to being military-connected, migratory, facing homelessness, or in the foster care system. These children and families are facing circumstances that often make it difficult to orient to new environments and communicate their needs.

The Letter first addresses the issue of timely and expedited evaluations and eligibility determinations. Generally, the IDEA requires completion of initial evaluations within 60 days of receiving parental consent for the evaluation, subject to any more specific timelines imposed by State law. 34 C.F.R. § 300.301 (c)(1). In Connecticut, we have a forty-five school day timeline from referral to implementation of IEP. Conn. Agencies Regs. §10-76d-13.

Because this timeframe applies, even if the highly mobile student changes schools during the evaluation timeline, best practice for school districts would be to complete any evaluations started by another school district within an expedited time frame, or within 30 days. Further, the completion of any evaluations already in progress when the new student arrives should not be delayed by the new school implementing their own multi-tiered systems of support, or SRBIs. The Department suggests that this can be considered unnecessary delay.

The Letter then addresses the implementation of comparable services, including Extended School Year services. Receiving districts are required to provide services comparable to those described in the IEP from the previous school. 34 C.F.R. § 300.323(e)-(f).  Comparable services must be provided until the district either conducts its own evaluation if necessary, and develops its own IEP, or adopts the IEP from the previous school, depending on whether the student is transferring to a new school within the same state, or transferring between states. Comparable services are necessary in order to provide FAPE to highly mobile students with disabilities. 

A FAPE can also require the provision of ESY services, if the IEP Team determines that such services are necessary. If a highly mobile student who is receiving ESY as part of their IEP transfers either just before or during the summer, the receiving district is obligated to provide any ESY services necessary to implement that student’s IEP, and cannot take the position that the student has not yet demonstrated a tendency toward regression in the new district.

The district has similar responsibilities under a Section 504 to meet a student’s disability-based needs. The letter recommends receiving districts draw upon information from a variety of sources, including past evaluations, past Section 504 plans, and IEPs. If, upon review, a past 504 provides a FAPE, the receiving district is free to simply adopt that plan.

Lastly, to the Department recommends connecting parents and guardians of highly mobile children with the appropriate training and information. The Department’s letter provides numerous resources for families and school communities. 

Our education attorneys are available to consult to school districts with any questions regarding providing services to highly mobile students, or any other education law issues or concerns. Please contact Marsha Moses at [email protected], Michelle Laubin at [email protected], or Christine Sullivan at [email protected] for assistance.