Special Education

Special Education

San José Unified provides programs and services for students with special needs that interfere with their ability to access the grade level curriculum. Our special education services create inclusive educational climates where individuality and diversity are respected, honored, and celebrated.

We strive to partner with students and parents to develop the most exciting learning environments for the academic, social, and emotional success of each student – where curriculum is universally accessible and aligned with strategic plan.


Section 504 Accommodation Plan

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a nondiscrimination statute that helps a student with a physical or mental disability receive a free, appropriate public education and equal opportunity. Students who qualify for a 504 Plan are entitled to regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet individual educational needs of handicapped persons as adequately as the needs of nonhandicapped persons are met. Though 504 Plans are individualized and vary greatly from student to student, some examples of 504 accommodations may include:

  • Preferential seating in the classroom
  • Breaking longer assignments into shorter segments
  • Permission to type assignments instead of write them by hand
  • Permission to visit the health office as needed

The 504 Plan is developed to ensure that a student with a disability receives accommodations that will allow the student to access the learning environment and general education curriculum.


Special Education Process at San José Unified

The special education process at SJUSD is to determine whether or not your child is eligible for special education services and if so, what special education services are most appropriate for your child.

There are five (5) basic steps in the special education process:

  1. Referral for Assessment
  2. Determination of Assessment
  3. Assessment to Determine Eligibility
  4. Development and Implementation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP), if eligible
  5. IEP Review
Step 1: How is a student referred for assessment for special education services?

Referrals for assessment for special education services can come from a variety of sources. Parents or guardians may refer their child for assessment for special education services. Teachers, other school personnel, and community members may also refer a child for assessment. Additionally, the Student Success Team (SST) at your student’s school site may refer your child for assessment for special education services. The district is required to document that the student’s educational needs cannot be successfully met through a multi-tiered system of supports and adjustment of the general education program before they make a referral for Special Education.

Step 2: What happens after the referral is made? How does the district determine whether or not to proceed with an assessment?

San José Unified will respond to any referral for an assessment within fifteen (15) days, not counting school vacations greater than five (5) days (i.e. summer and winter recess), of the receipt of the referral for assessment.

San José Unified personnel review all of the available evidence for a student upon receipt of the referral for assessment. This includes student grades, attendance, academic performance as measured by statewide and district-wide assessments, and other information as appropriate. A school psychologist determines whether or not an assessment is appropriate after an analysis of student information.

If the San José Unified team assigned to the referral determines that an assessment of your child is not appropriate, you will receive a written notice of this decision within the fifteen (15) day time period. If the team determines that an assessment is appropriate, you will receive an Assessment Plan.
An Assessment Plan describes the types and purposes of the assessments which may be used to determine your child’s eligibility for special education services. Before your child can be assessed, you must consent to the assessment by signing the Assessment Plan. You have at least fifteen (15) days from the receipt of the Assessment Plan to consent to and sign it. The school has sixty (60) days, not counting school vacations greater than five (5) days, of the receipt of your signed Assessment Plan to complete the assessment and hold an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting.

Step 3: What happens during the assessment? How does the district determine whether or not a student is eligible for special education services?

An assessment involves gathering information about your child to determine whether your child has a disability and if, as a result of the disability, your child requires specialized academic instruction.  Assessments may include individual testing, observation of the child at school, interviews with the parent(s), child and school personnel who work with the child, and review of school records, reports and work samples.

Guidelines for Assessment

When your child is assessed, San Jose Unified adheres to the following guidelines:

  • Your child will be assessed only after you consent to the Assessment Plan
  • Your child will be assessed in all areas related of his/her suspected disability
  • The assessment will be administered in your child’s primary language or an interpreter will be provided
  • The assessment must include a variety of appropriate tests to measure your child’s strengths and needs. The persons administering these tests must be qualified to do so. The assessment will be adapted for students with impaired sensory, physical, or speaking skills
  • A multidisciplinary team, including at least one teacher or other specialist with knowledge in the area of your child’s suspected disability, will assess your child.
  • Testing and assessment materials and procedures must not be racially, culturally, or sexually discriminatory

Eligibility for special education services is the result of following a systematic process that carefully evaluates and identifies one or more learning impairments that interfere with a student receiving educational benefit. Eligibility is determined by the IEP team.The assessment process and IEP team seek to determine the answer to the following questions.

  • Does the student meet the eligibility criteria as an individual with a disability?
  • Does the severity of the disability have an adverse effect on the student’s educational performance?
  • Does the student require special education and services to achieve a free appropriate public education?
  • Is the need not due to a lack of appropriate instruction or limited English proficiency?

Children who have a disability and meet specific eligibility criteria according to the laws and regulations outlined by the California Education Code and federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may qualify for special education under one of thirteen (13) areas.

  • Autism (AUT)
  • Deafness
  • Deaf-Blindness (DB)
  • Emotional disturbance (ED)
  • Hard of Hearing (HH)
  • Intellectual disability
  • Multiple disabilities (MD)
  • Orthopedic Impairment (OI)
  • Other health impairment (OHI)
  • Specific learning disability (SLD)
  • Speech or Language Impairment (SLI)
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Visual Impairment (VI)


A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance.


A hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, which adversely affects a child’s educational performance.


Concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.

Emotional Disturbance (ED)

Emotional Disturbance means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics, over a long period of time and to a marked degree, that adversely affects educational performance:

  • An inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors;
  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers;
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feeling under normal circumstances;
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

The term (ED) includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.

Hard of Hearing

Hard of Hearing means hearing, impairment, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance, but that is not included under the definition of “deaf” in this section.

Intellectual Disability (ID)

Significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

Multiple Disabilities (MD)

Concomitant impairments, the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.

Orthopedic Impairment (OI)

A severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly (e.g., clubfoot, absence of some member, etc.), impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis, etc.), and impairments form other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

Other Health Impairment (OHI)

Having limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment.

Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. Eligibility for services requires that there is a significant discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement in one or more of the following academic areas: oral or written expression, listening or reading comprehension, basic reading skills, mathematics calculations and reasoning. Disorders not included – the term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Speech or Language Impairment (SLI)

A communication disorder, impaired articulation, language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

Visual Impairment, including Blindness

Impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.

Step 4: What is the IEP meeting and what happens during the meeting?

After your child has been assessed, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting will be held. The IEP meeting must be held at a time and place convenient for both you and the school’s representatives. The school must provide you with written notice of the IEP meeting within a reasonable time prior to the meeting. This notice will include: the date, time, and place of the meeting; the reason for the meeting; who will be at the meeting; and a statement of the right of participants to electronically record the meeting. If you are unable to attend the meeting, you may call the school to reschedule.

At this meeting, the IEP team will discuss the assessment results and determine if your child is eligible for special education services. If your child is eligible, an IEP will also be developed during the meeting.

IEP Team Members
  • The child’s parent or guardian, and/or your representative
  • A school administrator or qualified representative who is knowledgeable about program options appropriate for your child
  • Your child’s present teacher. If a student does not presently have a teacher, a teacher with the most recent and complete knowledge of the student and who has observed the student’s educational performance will participate as an IEP team member. If a teacher with the most recent and complete knowledge of the student is not available, the teacher on the IEP team will be a special education teacher qualified to teach a student of his or her age
  • The person(s) who assessed your child or someone familiar with those assessment procedures.
  • Other persons, such as your child, whom you or the school wish to invite

An IEP is the written plan that describes a child’s abilities and needs, and the goals, accommodations/modifications, and services designed to meet the child’s unique needs. Your child’s IEP must be reviewed and, if necessary, revised once a year or more often upon request. If your child is found to be eligible for special education services, the IEP will contain:

  • Annual goals focusing on your child’s current level of performance
  • The services that your child will receive
  • When services will begin, how often they will be provided, and for how long
  • The instructional program(s) where these services will be delivered
  • The amount of time your child will spend in general education. If your child is not educated completely in general education, it should state why
  • How the school will measure your child’s progress.

You will receive a copy of the IEP at or shortly after the IEP meeting. If you do not attend the IEP meeting, a copy will be mailed to you. You have the right to agree or disagree with any part of the IEP but a signature from the parent/guardian is required in order for a student to receive special education services.

Step 5: What can I expect after my child is found to be eligible for Special Education services?

After your child qualifies for and begins receiving special education services, his or her IEP will be reviewed in an IEP meeting at least once a year to determine how well it is meeting his or her needs. In addition, every three years, your child will be reassessed and his or her IEP reviewed as part of an overall comprehensive reevaluation of your child’s progress.

It is important for parents to maintain regular contact with the educational professionals who work with their child. Also, in preparation for an annual review or reevaluation, parents should prepare by reviewing past IEPs and student records. The case manager should send home any assessment results as well as a draft IEP for you to review prior to the meeting. As the parent is typically the only team member who sees the child at home, your input is critical in assessing student progress and achievement.

If there are concerns that your child’s educational needs are not being met, either you or school personnel may request a reassessment or an IEP meeting to review the IEP at any time during the year. You may request an IEP meeting by sending a written request to the school. Once your request is received, the meeting must be held within thirty (30) days, not counting school vacations greater than five (5). You may request a reassessment by sending a written request to the school. The school must get your permission before it reassesses your child.


Preschool Assessments

San José Unified provides special education assessments for preschool-age children who are residents within the district boundaries. The assessment process is in place to help determine a student’s potential eligibility for district-provided special education services.

We have a preschool assessment center staffed by a team dedicated to serving the needs of children ages 3-5 with disabilities. The team will guide your family through the district assessment, Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, and the programs and services we provide if your student qualifies.

Families are required to enroll their students at the District Office at 855 Lenzen Avenue prior to being assessed at the Preschool Assessment Center.  Please find more information on enrollment here.

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Community Advisory Committee

The Community Advisory Committee for Special Education is a state-mandated committee responsible for: parent education and advocacy training; review and development of the special education local control plan; participation in district committees directly affecting the special education program; and addressing concerns regarding special education programs that support students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). The CAC-SE is dedicated to ensuring that every special education student in San José Unified is getting the highest quality education.

Members of the CAC-SE include parents of individuals with exceptional needs enrolled in public or private schools, parents of other pupils enrolled in school, pupils and adults with disabilities, regular education teachers, special education teachers and other school personnel, representatives of other public and private agencies and persons concerned with the needs of individuals with exceptional needs.

The CAC-SE is currently seeking new members. Click here to download an application , and visit the CAC-SE Facebook page or send an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for more information.


Parent Resources and Special Education Rights of Parents and Children

Educational law recognizes the value of parental input when decisions are made about the educational needs of a child. Decisions are to be made cooperatively with parents, school personnel, and other persons with special knowledge of a child with the development of an educational plan appropriate to a child’s unique needs. To ensure that your child receives the education to which they are entitled, your involvement is imperative.

You can review your rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Parent Handbook developed by the Northwest Santa Clara County Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), and review these procedural safeguards from California Education Code:

CHINESE (simplified)
CHINESE (traditional)



There are a lot of acronyms in special education - how can I keep them all straight?

We know all of the abbreviations and terms can be pretty confusing. That is why we put together this list of common acronyms.

What is “free appropriate public education (FAPE)”?

Free, appropriate, public education (or FAPE) is the standard outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. By law, FAPE refers to special education and related services that:

  • Have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;
  • Meet the standards of the California Department of Education
  • Include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education
  • Are provided in conformity with the student’s IEP.
What is the “least restrictive environment (LRE)”?

Special education programs must address eligible students’ educational needs in the least restrictive environment. The term “least restrictive environment” refers to the placement of special education students in an educational placement suitable for their needs. This standard is mandated by IDEA.

The continuum of educational placements ranges from the least to the most restrictive:

  • General Education Classroom Placement – This is the least restrictive placement for all students.
  • General Education Classroom Placement with Special Education Consultation – In this placement, the student remains in the general education setting. A resource teacher provides support as decided by the IEP team.
  • General Education Classroom Placement with Resource Room Replacement/Support – In this placement, the student spends the majority of the day in the general education setting. They are pulled out of the classroom at scheduled times for remediation and/or support in specific subjects, this service may also be provided on a push in basis, again dependent upon the unique needs of the learner.
  • Special Day with Mainstreaming – In this placement, the student spends the majority of the day in a special class that is typically grouped by age-level and exceptionality. However, the student is mainstreamed into a general education classroom for part of the school day. This mainstreaming typically occurs in special subjects, including: art, music, physical education, etc.
  • Special Day Class – In this placement, the student remains with a special class for the entire day. These classes provide a highly structured and closely monitored setting.
  • A program within Santa Clara County - If San Jose Unified does not have a program that meets the needs of a student, we look first to programs offered by Santa Clara County Office of Education.
  • Non-public schools - When no appropriate public education program is available, a student with disabilities may be placed in a non-public school under contract with the District.
  • Residential school- When no appropriate public education program is available, a student with disabilities may be placed in a residential school.
How do I request an evaluation for special education services?

You can write a letter or verbally request an evaluation for special education services from birth to 22 years of age at any time.  It is helpful if you have already begun discussing your concerns at the school site with your student’s teacher, the principal, and/or through a Student Success Team (SST) meeting. 

If you choose to write a letter, district staff are available to assist in writing the letter. The following information is helpful, but not required, to include in the request:

  • Child’s name, age, grade, and school.
  • A short description telling about the areas you have concern over such as speech, reading, math, or behavior that impacts your child’s access to their education or socialization. 
  • Your contact information (address, phone number).

Within 15 days after receiving your request San Jose Unified will mail an Assessment Plan to you.  The assessment plan may include some forms for you to complete as well.  The Assessment Plan describes the types of assessments the district will use to assess your child.  If you agree with the proposed assessment plan, you will need to sign the form, along with a consent to release information from your child’s doctor, and return them to your school.

We cannot assess your child for special education services without your consent.  It is important to complete all of the paperwork that was provided with the Assessment Plan and return the forms at the same time. 

If you need assistance writing the letter requesting an evaluation or with completing the forms provided to you with the assessment plan, contact your child’s school or district office. We will help you.

What other help is available if my child exhibits evidence of a disability, but does not meet Special Education eligibility criteria?

If the IEP Team determines that your child does not meet eligibility requirements for Special Education at this time the team will usually give you recommendations that may support your child within the general education classroom.  Sometimes a student who does not meet the Special Education eligibility requirement, (i.e., the student’s disability did not significantly affect the student’s ability to learn) may qualify for services or accommodations under Section 504. Students who qualify under Section 504 are not required to have a written IEP document, but may receive accommodations to assist them in the classroom. 

Section 504 is a civil rights statute designed to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities, which states: “No otherwise qualified individual with handicaps in the United States, shall, solely, by reason of his/her handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…”.


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