In Florida, children three years of age and older who need significant modifications in their educational programs may be eligible for special-education services through their school district. These five steps can help you get started in finding information about the special-education process in Florida and getting your child needed help.
1. Florida has a Child Find program through the Florida Diagnostic & Learning Resources System that works with schools to identify students in need of special services. You can also make a written request to your child's principal or the district special-education director to have your child referred for special education.
2. Your child will be evaluated to determine whether he or she is eligible for special-education services. To understand what happens during the evaluations process, download "What Is Exceptional Student Education for Children with Disabilities?" and "Evaluations for Special Education Services: Information for Parents,"￼ both from the Florida Department of Education site.
3. If your child is found eligible, the school will plan an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child. Learn more about IEPs and other special-education terms and offerings from the Special-Education FAQ on this About.com site, and from the brochure "Getting Ready for Your Child's IEP Meeting" downloadable from the Florida Department of Education site. Also useful is the Department of Education's document Florida Statutes and State Board of Education Rules: Excerpts Related to Exceptional Student Education.
4. Download a copy of the "Notice of Procedural Safeguards for Parents of Students with Disabilities" to learn about your rights during evaluation, IEP planning, and throughout your child's time in special education. If you need to file a complaint or make a request at any time, you can find forms and information on the Dispute Resolution page on the Department of Education site.
5. Get in touch with a parent advocacy organization in your area. The Central Florida Parent Center has an interactive map that can point you to an organization in your area that offers training and information for families of children with special needs in Florida. You can also check with your IEP team or district special-education director to find out if there's a parent group in your local area.