About special education

Special Education is a set of professional services that support children who struggle in school because of a disability.

All public school systems are required by law to offer these free services to children with disabilities from ages 3-21. In some districts, this may be called ESS: Exceptional Student Services.

This is for students who need more than the interventions described in the earlier part of this Guide. 


How does it work?

  • To qualify, a child must have a disability that affects their learning, and they must need specially designed instruction in order to make progress in school. The evaluation will show if this is the case. (See the section above to learn more about the evaluation.) 

  • Kids can get some services starting at age 3, even before they start school. They should continue getting services as long as they qualify, through graduation from high school or age 21 (whichever is sooner.) 

  • You will work with a school team to decide on a plan of services. This plan will be described in an Individualized Education Program, or IEP — a legal document the school is required to follow.

  • Your child might work with a learning specialist inside the regular class, outside the regular class, a combination of both, or possibly in a special class. 

  • Some children also need therapies to help with things speech, coordination, emotions or behavior.


Image of an exclamation point with text: Every child has a right to a free public education that meets their unique needs. It's the law.

Sources: IDEA