The School-Based Mental Health section provides information and resources about how mental health affects the way a child learns and develops and directly impacts a child’s experience at school. This site was designed as a resource for parents and caregivers to help you understand what type of problems your child might be having that can impact their school performance and adjustment, as well as identifying the supports that are available in both the community and at school. We also help parents better navigate the school system if their child has a mental health issue or disability through our frequently asked questions.
To learn more about the Child Health and Development Institute’s work on School-Based Mental Health, click here.
Where to start
Some children have difficulties in school such as problems with concentrating, learning, making or keeping friends, refusing to go to school, bullying or behavior issues. These types of problems can interfere with a child’s ability to learn and be successful at school. To help your child have the best school experience possible, and be sure that their difficulties are not getting in the way of learning, it is important to find out the nature of the problem that your child is experiencing. Problems can be due to unaddressed emotional, psychiatric and behavioral difficulties as well as learning disorders and disabilities.
Some warning signs to look for include: changes in school performance (changes in grades), mood changes, complaining of illness before school, increased disciplinary problems at school, experiencing problems at home or family situation (stress, trauma, divorce, substance abuse, domestic violence), communication from teachers about problems at school, and dealing with an existing mental health disorder or disability.
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health and educational needs, a good first step is to contact a classroom teacher. Often, there are other support staff you can talk to as well, including the school nurse, assistant teachers, school resource staff, guidance counselors, school counselors, social workers and even your child’s gym teacher. Any professional school staff that has ongoing contact with your child can be a potential source of information. You can also talk to your school’s principal or assistant principal if you need additional help. The more you are involved and the more questions you ask will result in you having a better understanding of the difficulties your child may be facing and where to start to address your concerns. If you feel that you have done everything you can to get the best help or support for your child and you still have remaining concerns, you can also contact your school’s district superintendent to discuss your concerns and if needed, request a formal evaluation. Please see the “frequently asked questions,” section to find out more about working with your child’s school.
Screening and Assessment
If you or your child’s teacher has concerns about your child’s behavior or development, a screening may be conducted to learn more about the potential problem. A mental health screening tool may be used to decide if more testing is needed. Screenings are usually brief surveys that you, your child, or another adult at the school that knows your child would complete to see what symptoms may be present. If potential problems are found, an assessment may be recommended to gather more information or to provide a formal diagnosis. An assessment would usually be conducted by the school psychologist or other trained and licensed professionals and would include a review of your child’s medical history, family history, and social development collected through records, questionnaires, and interviews. This information would be combined into a written report with recommendations for services or supports to meet your child’s needs.
Who provides mental health services in schools
School-Based Health Clinics
In some communities, there are “School-Based Health Clinics” where students and their families can come to the school for all medical, social-emotional, and/or behavioral issues. For a list of Connecticut State Funded School-Based Health Clinics, please click here to go to the the Connecticut Association of School Based Health Centers webpage. In your state, you can ask for a list of school-based health clinics from the Department of Public Health, the Department of Education or your Board of Education. School-based health clinics provide a range of supports for children and families including physical and mental health services. In communities that have school-based health clinics, these services are available to all children who attend that school.
There are many different types of school mental health professionals and service providers who work with children in schools to provide services. Some providers specialize in specific services or programs and others provide a wider range of services. Your school Guidance or Special Education Departments can help you identify these individuals in your school or district and determine who may best meet your needs.
School Counselors are professionals who work with all students, school staff, families and members of the community as an integral part of the education program. They help students by assisting them in making decisions and by teaching strategies for school success.
In order to achieve program success, school counselors deliver classroom lessons and provide individual and small group counseling on a variety of topics. They consult and collaborate with teachers, staff and parents to understand and meet the needs of students and remove barriers to student learning. Counselors address academic, career and personal/social developmental needs of all students. They adhere to professional standards and continuously pursue professional growth activities. Please visit the American School Counselor Association website for more information.
School Social Worker
A school social worker is a trained mental health provider, generally with a master’s degree in social work, who provides a range of prevention and intervention services for students and their families as it pertains to their education. These services range from school level prevention and school climate initiatives, to peer mediation, group-based interventions, individual counseling and behavior planning, and crisis intervention. School social workers often serve as a liaison between families and the school and as an advocate for the best interests of the child by participating in PPT meetings, providing outreach, home visits, and linkage to community-based services and supports. For more information about school social workers, visit the website for the School Social Work Association of America.
School psychologists are masters or doctoral-level behavioral health providers trained to provide psychological testing, assessment, prevention, and intervention services in the school setting. School psychologists offer a variety of therapeutic and assessment services to help students with academic and learning difficulties such as formal evaluation and consultation; counseling or therapy to address family stressors in the home environment; skill development to address social, emotional, and behavioral problems; and evidence-based treatments to address identified or diagnosed conditions, all with a goal of improving a student’s academic, social, and emotional functioning. School psychologists are integral to the school community, also providing consultation to parents and families, staff, and administration and facilitating referrals for services outside of the school as needed. To learn more about school psychology, visit the National Association for School Psychology website.
School nurses or nurse practitioners receive specialized training to provide services and supports to prevent and treat general health and wellness concerns of students and to promote a safe and healthy school environment. Most school nurses have earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and are licensed registered nurses. In many states, including Connecticut, a school nursing certification is required for nurses to practice in schools. Nurses are often the first school staff member to be consulted for students with emerging mental health concerns and they often consult with other health and mental health professionals outside of the school through referral and case management. Visit the website for the National Association of School Nurses to learn more.
A paraprofessional educator, which also may be referred to as a “para,” teacher’s assistant, classroom aide, or one-to-one, works in a school teaching position that covers a wide variety of school-based activities. Paraprofessionals may complete administrative duties for the school or classroom, provide supervision or monitoring of individuals or groups of students, engage in teaching or tutoring, assist with classroom behavior management, or have specialized training to provide particular academic or behavioral interventions for students with special needs. Paraprofessionals working in special education departments may provide general support and assistance to the primary teacher or may be assigned to provide individualized support to one student throughout the day based on the child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) requirements. Training and education requirements for paraprofessionals vary among states, but generally require a high school diploma or associate’s degree. Some states or districts require bachelor’s level degrees or additional certification.
Natural and Informal Supports
In addition to consulting with the various school mental health professionals listed above, you are also encouraged to seek support from natural and informal supports in your community. As a parent or caregiver, you play a critical primary role in your child’s health and development. You and other family members, friends, and other important people in your child’s life such as coaches, religious clergy, child care providers, and mentors are considered natural and informal supports—people who have a personal relationship with the child and can be called upon in times of need to provide help and support, but do not typically have a formal or paid role as a service provider for the family. These are people who can assist you in preventing, identifying, and monitoring the mental health needs of your child by doing things like attending meetings with you, providing transportation to appointments, providing childcare when you have appointments or just need a break, supporting your child’s strengths and interests, or by just listening when you need to talk.
School-based supports and services
Many school-based mental health services are provided by school-employed guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, and paraprofessionals. They are specially trained and work to help children be successful at school. In Connecticut, The State Board of Education recommends support services for students to include school counseling, school nursing, school psychology, school social work, speech-language pathology and audiology. To address students’ emotional, behavioral, and mental and physical health needs, the Board recommends that every school district develop, adopt and implement a collaborative approach to service delivery that involves effective use of student support services personnel, parental involvement and community-based resources.
Every school district in Connecticut and across the country will be a little different in the range of services and supports it offers. The availability of services is often determined by the size and available resources of the community, yet access to support services is available to some degree in all schools. As a parent or caregiver, it is important for you to understand the range of services and supports offered by your school and your school district. Many services are available to any child in need, while other services are limited. In some cases, special services are only available if your child has an IEP.
Positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS)
Many schools implement Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). This is a school-wide model for choosing and integrating research-based methods to provide the best academic and behavioral outcomes for all students. PBIS uses a three-tiered model to put in place strategies to prevent academic and behavioral difficulties for all students, including those at risk of developing problems or with high levels of need. Other services or programs designed to address mental health include positive extracurricular or afterschool activities or clubs to promote positive social interaction among peers and opportunities for students to learn skills and experience success in a supportive environment.
To find the PBIS coordinator in your state, please click here.
TYPES OF SCHOOL-BASED SERVICES AND SUPPORTS
School-based health clinics
In some communities, there are “School-Based Health Clinics” where students and their families can come to the school for all medical, social-emotional, and/or behavioral issues. For a list of Connecticut State Funded School-Based Health Clinics, please click here. In your state, you can ask for a list of school-based health clinics from the Department of Public Health, the Department of Education or your Board of Education. School-based health clinics provide a range of supports for children and families including physical and mental health services. In communities that have school-based health clinics, these services are available to all children who attend that school.
You can also get help from your child’s pediatrician or from community mental health providers. To find a qualified mental health professional, you can talk with your private insurance company who can give you a list of preferred providers in your area. If you live in Connecticut and have HUSKY, you can ask the Behavioral Health Partnership (BHP) to help you find a provider or you can call 2-1-1. To learn more about how to get the best help, please click here.
Student services or pupil services
Each district has a Student Services or Pupil Services Department that oversees Special Education. The following types of support services provided in the school include: Screening and Assessment, Behavior Management Consultation, Case Management, Crisis Intervention, Individual Counseling, Group Interventions, Medication Management, and Family Support Services. All services may not be available in every school district or may be limited. For example, a district may have one social worker that works part-time at several different schools. Or, a district may provide some specialized services in select schools so that students with a particular need are placed together in one school program. In addition, some services may be linked or accessed through the school, but provided in the community by outside providers, often in after-school hours.
Behavioral health consultation
Behavioral Health Consultation is provided primarily in early childcare settings for children up to age 8. A consultant works with families to provide prevention services such as giving parents and caregivers tips for creating a positive home environment, information about developmental stages, may provide training for families on how to manage difficult behaviors, and can help refer and connect families to additional services in the community outside of the school. Consultants may also provide training to or work with classroom teachers to help them incorporate unique strategies or additional supports to assist a particular student.
If your child is currently experiencing emotional or behavioral difficulties in school or is at risk for developing problems, they may have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with another adult in the school or may be able to meet together with a small group of peers. Meeting one-on-one allows your child to receive individualized attention in a private setting with a trained school counselor, social worker, or psychologist. These meetings may be prevention-based as a way to monitor any developing or potential difficulties, or may be more therapeutic with a goal of improving specific behaviors or outcomes.
Group interventions are a way for your child to receive services or support together with peers who may be experiencing similar challenges or who are at risk for emotional or behavioral difficulties. Groups may be focused on preventing problems by developing social skills or building positive peer relationships, or may be more therapeutic to address more serious or ongoing problems, such as anger management, grief and loss, or dealing with divorce. Groups are often led by a school social worker, psychologist, or counselor and may occur during or after-school hours.
Family support services
Often a child who is experiencing difficulty in school may also be experiencing problems at home. Many times there are problems that impact the whole family such as family stress, a traumatic event, poverty, or other concerns. Some schools provide services to help meet basic needs of a student or their family to help improve the child’s functioning at school. For example, schools may provide computers or resource libraries for parents to access, offer educational programming for parents, provide support for seeking employment, free meals or clothing, or referrals to other community-based services and supports. These services may be coordinated by a parent liaison, social worker, or counselor in the school.
For students with multiple service needs, case management can help to coordinate the services into one plan of care for the child and family. Often a school social worker or counselor may take on the role of case manager to help maintain contact between service providers, to oversee adherence to the plan, advocate to meet the student’s identified needs, and monitor the child’s progress.
If a child needs psychotropic medication to treat an identified behavioral health condition, the school can assist the child in managing their medication during the school day. A school nurse or trained school based health clinician will administer the indicated dosage to the child, monitor symptoms and side effects, and coordinate with outside medical providers such as your child’s pediatrician.
Referral to community-based services
When a student or family requires services and supports not available through the school or district, the school may refer the child and family to a community-based provider who can better meet their needs. These providers may be sub-contracted to provide services to the school, may have informal agreements in place to guide the types of services to be offered, or in some instances may be able create a faster linkage to services than the family may be able to on their own. School staff may be able to assist the family in filling out paperwork, coordinating appointments within the school day, and following up with referral sources to ensure that appropriate services were put in place.
School-based substance abuse prevention programs
Teaching children about harmful effects of substance abuse when they are young is key to preventing later abuse of cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs. One way of doing this is through health and substance abuse education in the schools. The target of these health promotion programs is not just at-risk children, but all children as a model of universal substance abuse prevention.
School Linked Services and Supports
Care Coordination provides youths and families in the community with in-home case management services. The goal of Care Coordination is to establish strategies to help reach family goals established amongst their team of family supports and community providers. This program is non-clinical and is free to any youth and family in the State of Connecticut between the ages of 4-18 years old who has a mental health diagnosis. Care Coordination collaborates with school members (teachers, social workers, guidance counselors) community supports (athletic coaches, role models, therapists) along with many other members of the community (probation officers, grandparents, after-school program staff) to work towards a family driven goal. To find the Care Coordination provider in your area, click here.
When a child is having suicidal thoughts, is having difficulty functioning with every day tasks, is unable to express him or herself effectively, or if there is a general concern for a youth, crisis intervention is needed to help address a child’s functioning. During crisis intervention, a social worker, school psychologist, guidance counselor or a therapist may use a crisis intervention approach to alleviate the symptoms and link the child and family to services in the community. An example of crisis intervention is Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services. (EMPS)
Students actively involved in positive activities often exhibit better academic functioning and get along better with their peers. After-school or extracurricular activities can be a great way to promote positive youth development, promote positive interactions with peers, build self-esteem, and develop skills among youth. Schools often partner with community-based agencies to promote or provide safe, supportive environments for afterschool activity that students may learn about through school newsletters, flyers, or from other students at the school.
Bullying and school climate
Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. If you believe your child is being bullied, you need to speak to your child’s teacher or counselor immediately and informally. Often, such a conversation will be enough to make the situation better for your child. If this does not work, then report this again in writing to the teacher or counselor, especially if you have never done so before. If you do not get the help or attention that you believe you need, you should then report it in writing to the school principal.
You can get more information about bullying, both prevention and action steps to take, by clicking on the links provided here, Bullying Resource Center and stopbullying.gov. In Connecticut, the State Department of Education has information related to bullying on their website.
School violence and safety
One of the primary concerns of parents and caregivers with children in school is that children are safe and secure in the school environment. In general, schools are the safest place for children to spend their day, as violence among youth peaks during the after-school hours. Despite these facts, there are growing concerns about violence in schools. If you are worried about the safety of your child, you should contact your child’s teacher, administrator, or speak with the school security or resource officers. For immediate concerns regarding specific threats or imminent danger, you may need to call your local police department.
For more information about safe schools please visit the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention website.
Students at risk for suspension, expulsion, in-school arrests
Although juvenile arrests have declined over the last 5 to 10 years, there remain high rates of inappropriate in-school arrests, as well as expulsions and out of school suspensions, particularly among students with mental health needs and students from minority racial and ethnic backgrounds.
In order to meet the needs of students who are at risk of arrest or expulsion, many middle and high schools require linkages to a range of community-based mental health services and supports, particularly rapid response and support for managing crisis mental health needs.
One initiative that is working with schools to address some of these concerns is called, The Connecticut School-Based Diversion Initiative. Resources to manage mental health needs within schools often are limited. Although some districts have in-school health clinics that allow them to directly address students’ mental health needs, other schools can meet these needs by accessing an existing continuum of mental health services and supports. Through training, consultation, and support, SBDI coordinators increase the awareness of school staff about community resources and help to link them to existing services and supports to meet the needs of students and their families.
Community and national resources
In addition to finding these helpful resources in our general resource library, we have provided them here.
Special Education and Educational Resources
The Connecticut Department of Education: If you would like to know more about Special Education or school-based health clinics that are located in Connecticut, visit the Bureau of Special Education website at the Connecticut Department of Education: https://portal.ct.gov/services/education/special-education
The State Education Resource Center (SERC): SERC is a nonprofit agency that serves as a resource for educational research and best practices. SERC provides schools and the community with professional development, information dissemination, training, and technical assistance services:http://ctserc.org/s/
The Connecticut Association of School Based Health Centers: This website provides specific information about school-based health centers in CT and also provides general information on child and adolescent health, behavioral health, and school safety: http://www.ctschoolhealth.org/
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS): Also known as School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports (SWPBS) seeks to improve academic and behavior outcomes for all students by providing a decision-making framework for schools to promote effective instructional and behavioral practices and interventions: http://www.pbis.org/
School Climate and Bullying: The Connecticut Department of Education has integrated new programs in schools in order to address whole-school climate and prevent bullying behaviors:https://portal.ct.gov/SDE/School-Climate/Bullying-and-Harassment/Related-Resources
Connecticut FAVOR, Inc.: FAVOR is a statewide family advocacy agency for children’s mental and behavioral health needs: http://www.favor-ct.org/
African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities (AFCAMP): AFCAMP provides parent to parent support; information and referral; training for families and professionals; information on disability laws and services; advocacy for better services; and support at PPT meetings when possible:http://www.AFCAMP.org
NAMI-CT: NAMI is a national family and consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with serious mental illnesses and their families: http://www.namict.org/
Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC): CPAC is a statewide nonprofit that offers information and support to Connecticut families of children with any disability or chronic illness age birth to 26.http://www.cpacinc.org/
Keep the Promise Coalition: Keep the Promise Coalition is dedicated to advocating for a comprehensive, community mental health system for adults, children and families in Connecticut.http://ctkeepthepromise.org/about-ktp.php
Center for Children’s Advocacy: Lawyers at the Center for Children’s Advocacy operate on the belief that every child, no matter the circumstances, deserves justice, equity and access. The Center promotes and protects the legal rights of Connecticut’s poorest and most vulnerable children, in such areas as education, juvenile justice, health, and behavioral health: http://www.kidscounsel.org/
Frequently asked questions
- Is your child suddenly avoiding school or complaining of illness when it is time to go to school?
- Is your child experiencing significant changes in their school performance (poor grades, failing tests, etc.)?
- Is your child having increased disciplinary problems at school?
- Does your child have difficulty concentrating in class?
- Does your child’s mood or behavior seem different to you, especially when it is time to go to school or when talking about school?
- Is your child complaining a lot about school and it is a source of concern?
- Does your child report problems with other children or feel like they don’t fit in?
- Has your child’s teacher talked to you about his/her concerns?
- Is your child having difficulties at home or in other areas of their life?
- Is your child exposed to stressful situations at home such as marital or family problems, substance abuse, changes in living status, or domestic violence?
- Has your child recently experienced a troubling or traumatic event?
- Does your child have an existing mental health problem or concern?
When you have concerns about your child’s behavior in school or are worried that their mental health problems may be interfering with their academic performance, the best thing to do first is to talk to your child’s teacher. Your child spends most of their day in school and teachers are able to observe your child in a classroom setting and in settings with other children. Creating an open dialogue with your child’s teacher early in the school year or as soon as you become concerned about your child will help you address your concerns in a timely manner. Do your best to attend parent-teacher conferences. Ask questions by sending notes, writing emails or meeting with your child’s teacher in person when you have concerns. By forming a strong collaborative relationship with your child’s teacher and taking an active interest in their school performance, you will be in a good position to understand what issues your child might be facing in the classroom setting. Often, there are other support staff you can talk to as well, including assistant teachers or aides, gym teachers, monitors, school resource staff, guidance counselors, and school psychologists or social workers. These staff members may have an opportunity to observe or interact with your child outside the classroom setting and provide additional information about your child’s behavior and interactions with others. If you feel you have done your best to get your child the help and support he or she needs, and you still have concerns, there are more formal ways you can request evaluation and help by seeking services for children with mental health issues and/or disabilities that are interfering with their education.
School-based mental health services include a broad range of activities and services, including: formal assessment, prevention strategies, or interventions such as counseling, consultation, and referrals for services and supports in the community. These services are important to a school’s ability to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for all students, address classroom behavior and discipline, promote students’ academic success, prevent and respond to crisis, support students’ social-emotional needs, identify and respond to a serious mental health problem, and support and partner with at-risk families. Many school-based mental health services are provided by school-employed guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and paraprofessionals. They are specially trained and work to help children be successful at school through a variety of activities such as: providing screenings to assess the severity of learning or behavior problems; teaching social skills, conflict resolution, and stress management; providing guidance about appropriate courses to take; or helping children manage medications or treatments for existing health and mental health symptoms. Often these staff are able to link children and their families with more comprehensive services to meet a variety of basic needs.
Some schools partner with community-based mental health providers to provide these additional services in the school building to be more convenient for children and families. Community-employed mental health providers may be able to provide a more holistic approach when addressing a child’s mental health compared to school-based workers that takes into account the impact on family, community, work, and school functioning for the child and their family as a system.
In some communities, there are “School-Based Health Clinics” where students and their families can come to the school for medical, dental, social-emotional, and/or behavioral health services. School-based health clinics are staffed by trained medical personnel and can address a range of prevention and treatment services. In Connecticut, parents can find more information about school-based health clinics by going to the Connecticut Association of School-Based Health Centers website. In your state, you can ask for a list of school-based health clinics from the Department of Public Health, the Department of Education or your Board of Education.
You can get help from your child’s pediatrician or from community mental health providers. To find a qualified mental health professional, you can talk with your private insurance company who can give you a list of preferred providers in your area. If you live in Connecticut and have HUSKY, you can ask the Behavioral Health Partnership (BHP) to help you find a provider or you can call 2-1-1.
It is important to find out why a child may be having trouble at school. In some cases, a child may have a mental health issue or a disability. By law, schools must give special help to eligible children with disabilities. This help is called special education and related services. A referral to special education is the first step in the process of seeing whether a child should receive special education services.
Special education is provided to a child with an identified disability who needs special instruction to meet his/her own needs and to allow the child to use the general curriculum of the school district.
As a parent or caregiver of a child who has or who may have a mental health issue or disability that requires special instruction, you will work with a team of educators and, as appropriate, specialists to find out the needs of your child and to design the right program that meets your child’s educational needs.
Related services may include, but not be limited to, psychological and counseling services, speech and language services, audiological services, guidance, social work, transportation, physical and occupational therapy and medical services that are required for diagnostic or evaluation purposes.
- Identify a child who has a mental health need or disability
- Referral for services and Planning and Placement Team Process (PPT)
- Evaluation of child
- See if child is eligible for services based on the evaluation and law
- Develop an Individualized Education Plan for child.
Before a child is considered for a referral to special education services, other procedures and programs must have been attempted with that child and where appropriate, put into place in the classroom. School districts have teams in individual schools that offer different programs for a child’s teacher to use in the classroom. These teams are sometimes called child study teams, or student assistance teams. A parent or caregiver may ask for help from their child’s school team. If a child still has trouble, a parent or caregiver should complete a referral to special education.
A referral is required for any child who has been suspended repeatedly or whose behavior, attendance or progress in school is considered unsatisfactory. Please also see information about the Connecticut School-Based Diversion Initiative which is a program available at no cost to Connecticut schools to help meet the needs of students who are at-risk of arrest, expulsion and/or suspension.
There are two ways that a child may be identified as possibly needing special education and related services: the system known as Child Find (which operates in each state), and by referral of a parent or caregiver or school staff.
Child Find: In Connecticut (for children ages 3-21) the Child Find Project at the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC) can help explain the process and help families connect with their local school district as well as other agencies. Call the toll free number, 1-800-445-2722 or click here for more information.
Connecticut parents or guardians of children ages birth through two years who think that their child may have a disability should contact Birth-to-Three at 1-800-505-7000.
Referral or request for evaluation: A school professional may ask that a child be evaluated to see if he or she has a disability. Parents or caregivers may also contact the child’s teacher or other school staff to ask that their child be evaluated. This request may be verbal, but it’s best to put it in writing.
Connecticut parents can use the Connecticut State Department of Education’s standard form, ED621, that can be filled out and given to the school.
- Developmental delay (for 3- to 5-year-olds, inclusive)
- Emotional disturbance
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disability (mental retardation)
- Multiple disabilities
- Orthopedic impairment
- Other health impairment (limited strength, vitality or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as lead poisoning, asthma, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, a heart condition, hemophilia, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome)
- Physical impairment
- Specific learning disability
- Speech or language impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Visual impairment including blindness
- The child’s regular education teacher
- At least one special education teacher
- An individual who can interpret evaluation results (e.g., school psychologist)
- Administrative and pupil staff at the child’s school
- Parent (s) or caregiver(s) of the child
- Parent Advocate
- Other persons knowledgeable about the child’s development, academic achievement or functional performance
- If appropriate, the child.
The first PPT meeting will document the referral to special education and will discuss the evaluation process.
The team will look at information that is already available about how the child is doing in school, including areas of strength, and will decide if more information is needed. A PPT may decide that a child does not need further evaluation.
Parents and caregivers should receive information in their native language or mode of communication on their first referral or request for evaluation.
Connecticut parents and caregivers should be given written notice at least five days before the PPT meeting.
If a child is found eligible to receive Special Education services, the IEP is a written plan that describes in detail your child’s special education program. All students receiving special education and related services must have an IEP. It must be reviewed every year. In Connecticut, parents and caregivers receive a copy of their child’s IEP within five school days after the PPT meeting is held to develop or revise the IEP. Infants and toddlers identified as having a disability through the Connecticut Birth to Three System receive an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP).
What are the main parts of an IEP?
- Current review of educational and functional performance;
- Measurable educational goals linked to present levels of academic and functional performance for the coming year and short-term objectives for instruction;
- Evaluation procedures and performance criteria;
- An explanation of the extent, if any, to which your child will not participate in the regular education class, the general education curriculum or extracurricular activities;
- Changes and special help your child needs to be active in the general education curriculum including non-academic and extracurricular activities;
- Special education and related services required by your child including transportation and physical and vocational education programs;
- Recommended instructional settings and a list of people who will work with your child to implement the IEP;
- The date services will begin and end, and the frequency of the identified services;
- The length of the school day and year;
- Recommendations for participation in alternate assessments (if needed); and
- Transition service needs
The IEP must include a statement of how the child’s progress will be measured. An explanation of how parents will be given information of that progress should be included in the IEP. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their non-disabled children’s progress (i.e., every marking period, mid-term progress reports). At least every three years the child must be re-evaluated. The purpose of the review is to determine whether the child continues to meet the qualifications for a disability, as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, the child must be re-evaluated more often if conditions warrant or if the child’s parent or teacher asks for a new evaluation.
In Connecticut, written consent is needed from a parent or caregiver in order to order a re-evaluation for special education services eligibility.
A 504 plan, which falls under civil-rights law, is a plan to allow students with disabilities to participate freely and safely in school to get the same opportunities as everyone else. An IEP, which falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is much more concerned with actually providing educational services. Students eligible for an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, make up a small subset of all students with disabilities. They require significant special help, and are more likely to work on their own level at their own pace. Only certain disabilities are eligible for an IEP, and students who do not meet those classifications but still need some help to be able to participate fully in school would be candidates for a 504 plan.
If the PPT team decides that the child is not eligible for special education, the school district must tell the parents and caregivers of this decision in writing and explain why the child has been found “not eligible.” Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents must also be given information about what they can do if they disagree with this decision. Parents and caregivers have the right to request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) conducted by a qualified (licensed and/or certified) examiner who is not employed by the child’s school district. When the school district agrees to pay for the IEE, the criteria under which the IEE is obtained, including the location and the qualifications of the examiner, must be the same as the criteria that the school district would use when it does its own evaluation.
In Connecticut, parents and caregivers have the right to appeal the school district’s decision by filing a complaint with the Connecticut State Department of Education, or initiating mediation or due process.
If a child is less than three years old and it is suspected that he or she may have a disability or significant delays, the child may be referred to the state’s appropriate early intervention services. In Connecticut, the Birth to Three System offers a free evaluation. If the child is over the age of three, the child may be referred by submitting the referral form or sending a letter to the special education director in the local school district.
A child who is eligible for special education and related services, if possible, must be educated with his/her non-disabled peers in the general education class in the school that the child would attend if he/she did not have a disability. This is called the LRE or least restrictive environment. If the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), with the use of extra aids and services, cannot be given in the school that the child would have attended, the Planning and Placement Team (PPT) must find the right educational placement for the child as close as possible to the child’s home.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that offers special education and related services designed to meet their own needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living. To find out more details about this law go to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities website.
In Connecticut, the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center website can help you understand the law.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 “Civil Rights Act for Persons with Disabilities
Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that no one with a disability, including those with mental health needs, can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including school. Students with disabilities that have a written “504 Plan” receive reasonable accommodations from the school that allow them to participate freely in the same opportunities as their peers.
Some basic educational requirements of this law are:
- No child with a disability can be excluded from a public education because of his or her disability;
- Every child with a disability is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) regardless of the nature of his or her disability;
- Children with disabilities must be educated with non-disabled students to the maximum extent appropriate to their needs;
- Procedural safeguards must be established so that parents and guardians can object to evaluation and placement decisions regarding their children;
- State or local educational agencies must identify and locate children with disabilities.
Connecticut State Department of Education
In Connecticut, parents and caregivers can find out their rights to special education services by clicking on the Connecticut State Department of Education’s publication entitled, Parents Guide to Special Education
If an evaluation is needed, a team which includes the parents (In Connecticut this is called a Planning and Placement Team, PPT) will meet to share information about the child’s development and school performance. This evaluation is free to families. Parents or caregivers must give informed consent (written consent) before the child is evaluated for the first time to see if the child is eligible for special education.
There are rules that protect the child in an evaluation. An evaluation must be able to identify all of the child’s special education and related service needs, and must be conducted in a fair way. All tests must be given in the language or form of communication that the child is most comfortable, unless it is not possible to do so. Evaluations must also include all areas related to the mental health issue or disability, such as: health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status and general intelligence, academic performance, communication skills, and motor skills.
In Connecticut, for children over three and younger than 21, the school district has 45 school days to complete the evaluation process and determine whether or not a child is eligible for special education services. This 45-day timeline starts when a written referral is received by school personnel.
Parents and caregivers may also disagree with the decision of an evaluation and ask for a review.
CT School-Based Diversion Initiative (SBDI)
Students with mental health needs are among those at highest risk for school-based arrest, expulsion, and suspension. These “exclusionary discipline practices” are linked with higher risk of future juvenile justice involvement and poor academic functioning. The Connecticut School-Based Diversion Initiative (SBDI) was developed to address these concerns, with three goals in mind:
- Reduce the use of inappropriate in-school arrests and other exclusionary discipline practices
- Enhance knowledge and skill development among key school professionals relating to mental health, juvenile justice, and collaborating with community resources
- Increase utilization of school- and community-based mental health services and supports.