Kindergarten - 12th Grade

Exceptional Student Education

Introduction to ESE

In Florida, children in public schools who have special learning needs because of a disability are called exceptional students. The special help they are given at school is called exceptional student education or ESE. The purpose of ESE is to help each student with a disability progress in school and prepare for life after school.

To receive ESE services in Florida, your child must meet the requirements of at least one of the exceptionality categories listed below AND need specially designed instruction and related services. Educators sometimes use the acronyms for exceptionalities, so these have been provided as well.

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH)
  • Dual-sensory impaired (deaf-blind) (DSI)
  • Emotional or behavioral disabilities (EBD)
  • Homebound or hospitalized (HH)
  • Intellectual disabilities (InD)
  • Orthopedic impairment (OI)
  • Other health impairment (OHI)
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Specific learning disabilities (SLD)
  • Speech impairment (SI)
  • Language impairment (LI)
  • Visually impaired (VI)

Navigating through the ESE process

There are at least six steps in the process of planning and delivering ESE services for your child. Each school district may have a slightly different way of carrying out this process. Work with your child's school during each step by giving information, asking questions, making suggestions, and helping make decisions.

Before deciding that your child is or is not eligible for exceptional student education, a team of people must conduct an individual evaluation of your child’s educational strengths and needs. The evaluation will include measuring your child’s response to instruction and interventions over time, interviews, observation, and an analysis of all information about your child and their educational needs. You must give your written permission before your child can be individually evaluated. The school staff will ask you to sign a consent form to show that you agree to the evaluation. For more information about the evaluation process, see Chapter 3 ofA Parent's Introduction to Exceptional Student Education in Florida.
Eligibility determination
After the evaluation is finished, the school will invite you to a special meeting, which is often called an eligibility staffing. When you get the invitation, you can attend at the suggested date and time, ask to reschedule the meeting and suggest other dates and times you can meet, ask to participate through a telephone conference, or decide that it is impossible for you to attend and tell the school that they may go ahead with the meeting and talk with you about the results afterward. For more information about the eligibility determination process, see Chapter 4 of A Parent's Introduction to Exceptional Student Education in Florida.
Developing the first individual educational plan
Every child with a disability who is eligible for ESE will have an individual educational plan (IEP). An IEP is a written plan that tells you, your child, the teachers, and other school staff which ESE services the school will provide to your child. Your child cannot receive ESE services until the first IEP is developed and you give your permission for the services and placement. IEPs are developed during IEP team meetings. For more information about developing the individual educational plan, see Chapter 5 of A Parent's Introduction to Exceptional Student Education in Florida.
Consent for services
For more information about consent for services, see Chapter 5 of A Parent's Introduction to Exceptional Student Education in Florida.
Annual reviews
At least once every 12 months, you and the rest of the IEP team will meet to talk about your child’s progress in school and to write a new IEP. You will receive a written notice about this meeting. If you cannot go at the time suggested in the written notice, you may call the school and ask for a different day, time, or place. For more information about annual reviews, see Chapter 6 of A Parent's Introduction to Exceptional Student Education in Florida.
The school must reevaluate your child at least every three years to find out if they still have a disability and still need ESE services. As part of the reevaluation, the IEP team must review existing information about your child. The IEP team may decide to give your child tests or use other methods to collect new data about your child. For more information about the reevaluation process, see Chapter 7 of A Parent's Introduction to Exceptional Student Education in Florida.

Procedural Safeguards

School and district staff must follow certain steps to make sure that exceptional student education and related services meet the unique needs of each public school student with a disability. If there is a disagreement, the rights that parents have to make sure those steps are followed are called procedural safeguards.

Procedural safeguards are designed to make the ESE process fair for you and the school and to help make sure your child receives a free appropriate public education. Procedural safeguards give parents and schools a set of rules to help them work together. The procedural safeguards also give parents and schools ways to solve problems and settle disagreements. For more information about procedural safeguards, see Chapter 8 of A Parent's Introduction to Exceptional Student Education in Florida.