Learning About Education

Children and youth with special health care needs often require
educational support. Some children may need only minimal support for a short period of time and others may need ongoing and/or extensive educational support. Regardless of the frequency or duration of the support, every child and youth has the right to a free, appropriate public education. (This is referred to as FAPE).

Education for children with disabilities, from birth to age 21, is guided by a U.S. law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Wisconsin also has state statutes that guide special education.


Before age three, education for a child with developmental delays is
called early intervention. Wisconsin’s early intervention program is referred to as the Birth to 3 Program.

The Birth to 3 Program evaluates children with developmental concerns. If the evaluation identifies your child as having a 25% delay in one or more developmental areas, he or she is eligible for the Birth to 3 Program. A child can also be eligible for the Birth to 3 Program based on a diagnosed disability.

All eligible children and families are entitled to receive Birth to 3 Program services regardless of their income. Families determined to have an “ability to pay” through the Parental Cost Share System pay an annual amount to help cover the cost of their child’s services while participating in the Birth to 3 Program.

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Young boy sitting in wheelchair. Page 34


A service coordinator will work with your family to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) based on your child’s strengths and needs. The Birth to 3 Program team, including parents and providers, will determine supports and services to meet the goals on the IFSP. Families receive services that address all areas of a child’s development including education and therapy services. All services and supports are provided where your child typically spends their day. This may include a child care setting, the child’s home, foster home, Head Start, etc.

Upon turning three, a child is no longer eligible for the Birth to 3 Program. Some children may be eligible for Early Childhood Special Education and will be referred to their local school district.
The following can provide more information on early intervention services:

Child Find is a continuous process of public awareness activities, screening and evaluation designed to locate, identify, and refer as early as possible all young children with disabilities and their families who are in need of an Early Intervention Program (Part C) or Early Childhood Special Education (Part B) services of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).” In Wisconsin we use an Informed Referral Network.


Finding high quality child care and having access to respite care can be essential for the health and well-being of your child and for your entire family.

Child care that is provided for children with and without special needs is called inclusive child care. By law, licensed child care providers in Wisconsin must make “reasonable accommodations” for children with disabilities. In reality, some child care providers are more prepared than others to take care of children with special needs. In certain circumstances, funding is available to help pay for the additional costs of childcare for a child with special health care needs. Here are some resources for finding inclusive child care, and for working with child care providers to create inclusive care:

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Children with disabilities may qualify for special education and related services from the public school system. These services are detailed in the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Public schools must follow U.S. and state laws to decide whether a child has a disability that qualifies for special education.
For more information and an explanation of disability categories:

School districts provide Early Childhood Special Education to children age three to five years with disabilities in a wide variety of settings, including preschools, Head Start Programs or in a child’s home. Starting at age six, eligible children will receive special education at their local school.

Schools are responsible for identifying children with disabilities living in their school district. Professionals such as doctors, teachers, and social workers should let the school know if they think a child has a disability. Parents should contact the school in writing if they think their child has a disability. The school must then evaluate the child to determine whether the child meets special education eligibility criteria.
For more information, contact your local school district or the Department of Public Instruction.

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Woman in a wheelchair interacting with an adult. Page 37


The services that a child needs for their education are written each year in a plan called an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The team that writes the IEP includes parents, teachers, therapists and school administrators. Children are encouraged to participate in their IEP meetings. An IEP is a plan that: identifies a student’s educational needs, contains learning based goals based on the student’s needs, and describes the services a student will receive in order to progress toward learning goals.

Individualized Education Program (IEP): Preparing Students for College and Career

504 PLAN

Some students with special health care needs are best supported with
a 504 Plan, especially if they have been found not to qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This support is guided by Section 504 of a US law called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
A 504 plan is a written plan that describes what the school will do
for the student in order to meet individual medical, physical, or
emotional needs. Any student who has an IEP automatically has Section 504 protections.

boy and parents at a meeting

A 504 plan might include services like:

  • tutoring
  • reduced homework
  • extra test-taking time
  • other accommodations or services

The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcement of Section 504.
For more information:


Parents sometimes choose to send their children with special needs to private school and pay the tuition cost themselves. Keep in mind that private schools can choose the students who attend the school and may not be required to follow IDEA or provide special education services.
The following bulletin from DPI can provide more information:

Some families choose to teach their children at home instead of sending them to school. Families who homeschool in Wisconsin must file a form with the Department of Public Instruction.


The Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (WCBVI) is located in Janesville, WI. Services include the Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired as well as statewide outreach services.

The Wisconsin Educational Service Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WESP-DHH) is located in Delevan, WI. Services include the Wisconsin School for the Deaf (WSD) statewide outreach services.

There may be other placement options. Contact your IEP team to discuss what options might be available to you and your child.


There are two primary organizations in Wisconsin that work with families and special education:

The Wisconsin Statewide Parent-Educator Initiative (WSPEI) is an organization that provides services for parents, educators, and others interested in parent-educator partnerships for children with disabilities. WSPEI coordinators are located in each of Wisconsin’s 12 Cooperative Educational Service Agencies (CESA). WSPEI strives to develop strong relationships and build effective partnerships with families and schools.

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child building a stack of blocks with teacher watching


As the link between school districts and the state. CESAs facilitate communication and cooperation among public and private schools, agencies, and organizations that provide services to students.
To find the CESA in your area go to: