Preschoolers with Developmental Delays Can Attend School Starting at 3 Years Old for FREE

free preschool eligibility for developmental delays

Children 3 to 5 years old who demonstrate developmental delays may be eligible to receive special education services at your local elementary school. This is funded via Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which contains grants related to providing free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive (LR) environment for children with disabilities ages three through 21, inclusive, including children with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled from school. In Georgia, the following applies:

The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B Section 619 is intended to help states ensure that all preschool aged children (3 through 5 years of age) with disabilities receive special education and related services. The Georgia Department of Education is the State Education Agency that is responsible for general supervision and monitoring of this provision. In Georgia, preschool-aged children with disabilities receive their special education and/or related services in their local school districts.

What do these services look like?

Starting at the age of 3, children can be placed in:

    1. a collaborative preschool classroom with typically developing peers and other students with disabilities,
    2. a classroom with only students of similar disabilities (developmental delays), or
    3. no classroom at all (the child will be seen at their private daycare).

If found eligible, your child will be supported by an Individualized Education Plan/Program (IEP), which may include related services (i.e. speech, occupational, or physical therapy.

How is eligibility determined for developmental delays?

The process begins with the parent referring their child for an evaluation at the local school district, also called the Local Education Agency (LEA). The LEA must conduct a full and individual initial evaluation within 60 calendar days of receiving parental consent (this excludes holiday breaks 5 days or longer).

During the evaluation process, the LEA cannot use any single procedure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability or to determine the appropriate educational program for the child. They must use technically sound instruments that assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical, communication and other developmental factors.

Standardized assessments, response to intervention (RtI) data, observations, and parent reporting are all used to create a profile and determine if your child’s challenges result in a disability.

Once the evaluation is completed and data has been gathered, the Eligibility Team will schedule a meeting to discuss the results. Prior to this meeting, request a draft copy of the Eligibility Report. A great deal of information is shared during this meeting, it is in your best interest to review the document before the meeting date and provide the team with adequate time to meet your request.

The Eligibility Team usually includes at least 3 of the following members:

    • child’s guardians/parents,
    • speech pathologist
    • special education teacher
    • lead special education supervisor
    • school psychologist
    • general education teacher (required member in all situations)

Team members can only be excluded when the parent has provided permission in writing. The Eligibility Team will determine whether the child is a child with a disability and the educational needs of the child. At the conclusion of this team meeting, the LEA will provide the finalized copy of all reports used to determine eligibility.

When possible, it is important to maintain private therapy services as your child goes through the school-based eligibility process.  In making a determination of eligibility, the team reviews all prior data (including private evaluations and treatment notes). Lack of appropriate instruction and intervention are factors that can deem a child ineligible to receive services provided by your local school district.

What happens to private therapy services?

If your child is deemed eligible for free preschool services and/or other supports, and you accept the recommendation of providing supports through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), if you wish to continue receiving private therapies and your child accesses Medicaid benefits, DO NOT provide permission for the school district to bill your child’s Medicaid. Refusing will not affect the services the school district is legally required to provide through the IEP.  School therapy services are already funded by the state.

If the school district bills your child’s Medicaid, you will be responsible for the cost of private services.

How do parents initiate this process?

It is best to contact your local school district’s Preschool Special Education Department and inquire about a “preschool special education assessment.” You will likely be asked to complete a referral packet, which can be found online or will be mailed to your home. It is important to note, the completion of this packet IS NOT parental consent. Unless you sign an official Parental Consent for Evaluation of Special Education Services form, the 60-day timeline is not initiated.

Understanding your rights is crucial in this process. Read 8 Parent Rights Regarding Special Education You Should Know

For Metro Atlanta residents, we’ve done a bit of the legwork to help you get started in contacting your school district for their referral packet or we can send it to you.

Atlanta Public Schools
Cherokee County School District (770) 721-8562
Clayton County Schools (770) 472-2460
Cobb County School District (770) 426-3331
Dekalb County Schools (678) 874-6026
Forsyth County Schools (770) 887-2461 x3101000
Fulton County Schools (470) 254-0404
Gwinnett County Public Schools (678) 301-7244

Child not yet 3 years old?

Is your child nearing the age of 3 (at least 6 months away)? Your child may qualify for Babies Can’t Wait (BCW) early intervention (0-3 years old) services, and they will help your child transition to school-based services. Read more: Pro & Cons: The Breakdown of Early Intervention Services in Georgia Through Babies Can’t Wait.

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