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Many families move from state to state or within a state for career changes, better opportunities, better weather or family issues. Whatever the reason, this article will give you tips for a smooth move with the goal of getting the new school team to have in place an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from day one in your child’s new school.

Before exploring tips, let’s look at the law. When a student with a disability transfers to a new school in the same state or in a different state, the new school should provide ‘comparable’ services based on the move-in IEP. The new school should take steps to get the child’s records from the previous school. The new school can ask the parents for consent to conduct an evaluation, which would be an initial evaluation by the new school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) states:

Within-state transfers: In the case of a child with a disability who transfers school districts within the same academic year, who enrolls in a new school, and who had an IEP that was in effect in the same state, the local education agency (LEA) shall provide such child with a free appropriate public education (FAPE), including services comparable to those described in the previously held IEP, in consultation with the parents, until such time as the LEA adopts the previously held IEP or develops, adopts, and implements a new IEP that is consistent with federal and state law.

Between-state transfers: In the case of a child with a disability who transfers school districts within the same academic year, who enrolls in a new school, and who had an IEP that was in effect in another state, the new LEA must provide such child with FAPE, including services comparable to those described in the previously held IEP, in consultation with the parents, until such time as the LEA conducts an evaluation pursuant to IDEA requirements at Section 614(a)(1), if determined to be necessary by such agency, and develops a new IEP, if appropriate, that is consistent with federal and state law.

Transmittal of records: To facilitate the transition for a child described above, the new school in which the child enrolls shall take reasonable steps to promptly obtain the child’s records, including the IEP and supporting documents and any other records relating to the provision of special education or related services to the child, from the previous school in which the child was enrolled, pursuant to 34 CFR Section 99.31(a)(2); and the previous school in which the child was enrolled shall take reasonable steps to promptly respond to such request from the new school. [614(d)(2)(C)(ii)]

TIP 1: Be sure that evaluations and assessments are current when you move.
Before the move, ask your child’s current school to update evaluations and assessments in every area such as psychological, functional behavior assessment, academic, speech language, or occupational therapy. This will help the new school understand your child and reduce the chance that the new school will ask for the evaluations which can take months to conduct. The new team will have fresh assessment data so that it can develop a timely, appropriate and beneficial IEP in the new school. Also, the new school may be operating under different criteria for your child to qualify for special education or related services, so having current assessments will allow that discussion to occur right away.

TIP 2: Assure that records are transferred from previous school to new school.
The new school should make reasonable efforts to get your child’s records from the previous school. Parents can help by identifying the persons responsible for sending and receiving records in the previous and new schools and staying on top of the process. The new school will need records in order to make good decisions for the student.

TIP 3: Be sure the IEP is clear and current.
The move-in IEP should document details about the student’s strengths, needs, present levels of performance, how accommodations are effective and how services are provided. There are often differences in the ways that schools implement the same service. If the parent waits to allow the new school to get to know the child, the parent may not be aware of potential problems and pitfalls which can lead to broken parent-school partnerships. Ask your child’s school before the move to work harder than maybe it normally would to specify what works for the child.

TIP 4: Know the new State’s law about eligibility, timelines for move-in IEPs and comparable services.
If you need help understanding the new school’s laws and timelines, a parent center may be helpful. Find your parent center here. Parents can also hire the services of a professional advocate. Comparable services must be provided by the new school until the new IEP is developed. Different states have different timelines. Comparable services are not the exact same services as in the previous school’s IEP, but they are services that are needed for your child to make progress and receive benefit from the special education program. Making a stressful move even more potentially complicated, the new school may question whether your child even qualifies for special education or services. Some states have voucher or school choice programs making a move more complex. So, knowing the law in your new state is important.

TIP 5: Connect the previous school staff with the new school staff.
Collaboration between the professionals who know the child and the new staff can be beneficial for the new staff to understand individual student characteristics, methods of implementation of the IEP and behavior interventions. After writing a referral for special education to the new school district and establishing residency, connecting the previous staff with the new staff can help with a smooth transition.

Moving can be a stressful time. With preparation, knowledge and advocacy, your child will get what they need from day one.

Did you know that evaluation methods for SLD, and eligibility criteria for SLD, can be different among states and even among school districts in the same state? In the next LDA Today Michelle Davis will explain why this is so, and how to prepare for this when you move.

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The Author, Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed., is an education consultant in private practice. Her company, ABCs for Life Success, advocates for students with a variety of learning and behavioral needs in different states. She is Co-President of the LDA of Florida and author of the Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book and School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Michelle has over 30 years experience working with students, families and educators.

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