You might already know that the Early Childhood Special Education program is a great way to help your child learn and prepare for school. The program is designed for preschool children ages 3 through 5 who have disabilities. It gives them a range of services to support their unique educational needs. If you think or know that your child has a disability, this page can help you get started with ECSE.
The most important first step is to ask that your child be evaluated for special education services through your local school district.
The ECSE program used to be called PPCD or Preschool Program for Children With Disabilities until 2019.
There are two common paths for a child to get into ECSE:
- If your child is not getting Early Childhood Intervention services, you can ask your child’s school district to do an evaluation.
- If your child gets ECI services, ECI transition planning should connect your family with your child’s school district.
ECSE Without ECI Services
If your child is between 2 ½ and 5 years old and isn’t getting ECI services, but you think special education services might help them, ECSE might be the support your child needs. Read further down this page for how to get ECSE, but first:
- Figure out which school district you’re in with the TEA School District Locator map. Visit your school district’s website and find the phone number for their main or special education department.
- Call your school district and ask to talk to the person responsible for “Child Find” or someone in the special education department. Tell them that your child needs to be evaluated for special education services. Child Find comes from a part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA that says school districts must have a process for identifying, locating and evaluating children with disabilities.
- You should also put this request in writing and email or drop it off with your school district. Don’t forget to get a signed, dated copy or receipt. Save your copy in a safe place as you organize your school records.
- Parents – and any person involved in your child’s care or education – can write and ask for this evaluation. This process is called a referral to special education and you can read more about that and find sample letters to the school in the IDEA handbook on the Disability Rights Texas website.
- You must sign and return a consent form before your child can have the evaluation.
Transitioning From ECI to ECSE
- Your child will no longer receive ECI services at age 3.
- If you’re interested in ECSE services, ask your ECI service coordinator as early as nine months before your child’s third birthday. Your child’s ECI team will start preparing a transition plan at the Individualized Family Service Plan or IFSP meeting. The earlier you create a plan, the better!
- Your ECI team should tell the school district you are interested in ECSE at least 90 days before your child’s third birthday. While your child is between 27 and 33 months old, you can schedule a screening meeting with ECI and someone from your child’s school district to discuss this transition. This meeting should take place in your native language. Let your ECI service coordinator know before the meeting if your family needs an interpreter or translator.
- You can invite someone from your ECI program to go with you to the screening meeting. And to other special education meetings.
- During the screening meeting, the person from the school district should let you know what you need to do to get ECSE. They should also answer all of your questions and explain what kind of special education services they offer.
- You will also be given a consent form to sign before your child can have the evaluation for special education services.
- ECSE probably won’t have all the same services that ECI does. Your ECI service coordinator might be able to help you learn how to keep getting some of these services. You can also connect with other parents for ideas.
- ECI and ECSE have different approaches, and that’s useful to remember when you make the switch. ECI is more family-centered and holistic, while ECSE is more child-centered and education-based. For example, your whole family might have been involved during the ECI process. But with ECSE, the focus will shift toward helping your child work independently in a classroom setting.
Getting Approved for ECSE
Whichever way your child gets connected to ECSE, the next step is to make sure that they are approved for the program. The school district will check that your child is between 3 and 5 years old, has a disability that qualifies them to receive special education services and needs these services. They will need to do an evaluation following these steps:
- The school district might do a screening of your child before they do a full evaluation. This will help the district decide what assessments will help them figure out your child’s unique educational needs.
- Your child will be evaluated to see if they need special education services. As a parent, you are a part of this evaluation, and it’s an important time to offer your expertise and unique opinions about your child.
- The evaluator will go through different tasks with your child to see if they have a qualifying disability. You can read more about special education evaluation on the Texas Project First Evaluation web page.
- If your child is approved to get special education services, the next step is to work with the school district in an Admission, Review, and Dismissal or ARD committee meeting and create an Individualized Education Program or IEP for your child.
If Your Child is Not Approved
If your child’s evaluation shows they don’t need special education services, your school district should send a Prior Written Notice. This tells you why your child was not approved – and the steps you can take if you disagree with the evaluation. Learn more on When You’re Having Trouble Getting the Right Services for Your Child.