Special Education

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA’04) is a federal law that, in combination with MN laws and rules, requires school districts to seek out, identify and provide special education services to students with disabilities.

The U.S. Congress has stated that a “disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”

Northfield Public Schools is committed to the success of all students and takes seriously its mandate to provide a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE) to students with disabilities.

The links listed below provide further information and answers to common questions regarding special education.

What is Special Education? Who is eligible for special education services? Early Childhood Special Education
How to refer my child? What must occur prior to a special education evaluation? Evaluation
Individual Education Program (IEP) Plan What is an IFSP? Secondary Transition Services
Extended School Year (ESY)  Services
Restrictive Procedures Third Party Billing
Dismissal from special education What rights do parents have? Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC)
Who should I contact if I have questions Additional Resources Special Education Staff

What is special education?

Special education is specially designed instruction and related services that enable a student with a disability to access and benefit from their program of education. Special education addresses the individual needs of the child that arise from a disability and is provided at no cost to the parents. These services can include specialized personnel, special instructional supplies and materials, modification to curriculum and other special accommodations.

Specially designed instruction means adapting the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction (i.e. what we teach and how we teach it) to address the student’s unique needs that arise as a result of their disability, and to ensure access to the general education curriculum.

Related services are a broad array of services that assist a student with a disability to benefit from their program of specialized instruction. Related services includes such things as:

  • adaptive equipment and/or technology
  • audiology
  • occupational therapy
  • orientation and mobility services
  • physical therapy
  • psychological services
  • school social work services
  • special transportation
  • speech/language pathology

While many of these services appear similar to or have the same title as medical and/or mental health services that might be provided in a clinic or hospital, there are significant differences between a related service provided by the schools and the services that might be provided by another agency.

While the goal of a medical or mental health provider is to improve the health of the patient, the purpose of a related service is to facilitate the student’s access to and allow them to benefit from their program of “specialized instruction.” Stated in reverse, if a student can access and benefit from the specialized instruction (i.e., meet their IEP goals) without a particular procedure or therapy, then it does not qualify as a “related service.” It is therefore possible that:

  • A particular intervention or therapy may be medically necessary, but may not be needed within the schools in order for the student to access and benefit from their specialized instruction. In such instances, the medical community would be responsible for providing the needed intervention.
  • A student may need a particular intervention to both address their medical needs and to access and benefit from their specialized instruction. The student would then receive that service both from the medical community and the schools. In such instances, it is important that the school and medical/mental health provider communicate with one another to insure their services are coordinated and supportive of one another.

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Who is eligible for special education services?

Students qualify for special education by meeting specific eligibility criteria, as defined by the MN Department of Education. Students are evaluated by a team of professionals to determine if they qualify in one or more of the following disability areas:

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH)
Deaf-Blindness (DB)
Developmental Cognitive Disability (DCD)
Emotional/Behavioral Disorders (EBD)
Other Health Disabilities (OHD)
Physically Impaired (PI)
Severely Multiply Impaired (SMI)
Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
Speech or Language Impairments
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Visually Impaired (VI)

It is possible to meet the eligibility requirements of a disability and not need special education services. For example, a child with a hearing loss who is succeeding within the general curriculum may not require ‘specialized instruction.’ In such instances, the district may still be required to make reasonable adjustments or accommodations to enable that student to access general education services under a Section 504 plan.

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Early Childhood Special Education

Early Childhood Special Education is available to children ages birth through six if they meet any of the 12 disability definitions listed above, or if they demonstrate a Developmental Delay (i.e. a substantial delay or disorder in development, or have a condition or impairment that inhibits normal development).

Help Me Grow – Programs for Infants and Toddlers (birth to age 3):

Help Me Grow is a collaborative effort among the Public Schools, the Department Human Services and the Department of Public Health. These agencies work together to address the needs of young children with disabilities and their families in the areas of education, health and social services. Quality early intervention services are of primary importance in assuring young children with disabilities are prepared for successful school and life experiences.

Referrals for evaluation are accepted from parents, physicians or other caring adults whenever a young child exhibits developmental concerns. Referrals for infants and toddlers can be made by calling the Rice County Help Me Grow contact person at 507.333.0172. For those infants and toddlers who qualify, services are usually provided in the child’s home, although some children may be served within a school setting if that best meets their needs.

Early Childhood Special Education (ages 3 thru 6):

Children with disabilities, ages three through six-years, are eligible for special education services through the schools. For those children who qualify, services are usually provided within a school setting, although some children may be served within their home or other environments if that best meets their needs.

A child who receives Early Childhood Special Education under the Developmental Delay criteria is re-evaluated prior to turning seven years of age. To continue to receive special education services beyond their seventh birthday, they must qualify for one of the K-12 disability areas previously listed.

How do I refer my child?

Parents, teachers, physicians or any concerned person can refer a child for potential special education services.

Birth to Age 3:

Referrals for infants and toddlers can be made by calling the Rice County Help Me Grow Facilitator at 507.333.6804.

Ages 3 thru 6:

Referrals for preschool children ages 3 thru 6 may be made by contacting the Student Services Office at 507.645.3410.


Referrals for students who are already in school may be made by contacting your child’s teacher or the principal of the school your child attends.

Once a referral is received, a team of professionals will meet to review the referral and determine how to proceed. Options available to the team in attempting to resolve the reported academic or behavior problem include:

  • developing and implementing interventions within the general education setting that are designed to target the identified problem;
  • referral to the Section 504 team to determine if the student is eligible for and needs an Accommodation Plan.
  • conducting a comprehensive evaluation to determine if the child is eligible for and needs special education instruction.  If an evaluation is warranted, parents will be asked for their written permission to assess their child before any testing occurs.

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What must occur prior to a special education evaluation?

To assure that students are given ample opportunity to succeed within the general education program, Minnesota Statute 125A.56 requires that schools implement and document at least two “instructional strategies, alternatives or interventions” within the general education classroom prior to referring a child for special education evaluation. This stage is called the ‘pre-referral process.’ In many instances, the child’s needs can be met by changing instructional strategies or through other interventions within the general classroom.

The duration of the pre-referral interventions are based on the individual child’s needs. The interventions must be of sufficient duration to allow the child to succeed from the new instructional strategies and/or interventions. However, the pre-referral process must not be used to unduly delay a special education evaluation if it becomes apparent the interventions are not successful.

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The district will conduct the evaluation as soon as possible after written consent is obtained from the parents. The purpose of the evaluation is to determine if the child is eligible for and needs special education services, and if so, to identify the special education needs that will be the focus of the specialized instruction.

Districts have forty-five (45) calendar days from the referral date to complete the evaluation of a child age birth to three, and thirty (30) school days from the date written permission is received to complete the evaluation for students age three and above.

While the district is not financially responsible for the costs of a parent-initiated assessment conducted by a physician, clinic or other agency, the evaluation team will review and consider such assessment data. However, the district is not required to accept the results nor implement the recommendations of an outside assessment unless the evaluation team agrees to do so.

Parents may request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at district expense if they disagree with the district’s evaluation. Upon receipt of a written request for an IEE, the district will provide the parent a copy of the criteria for an Independent Educational Evaluation, including information about where an IEE may be obtained. However, if the district believes an IEE is unwarranted, it may deny the parent’s request and initiate a due process hearing to show that it’s evaluation is appropriate.

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Individual Education Program (IEP) Plan

When a student is eligible for and needs specialized instruction, an Individual Education Program (IEP) plan is developed at an IEP Team meeting that includes parents, school personnel and others who might have input into the student’s special education needs.

An IEP is a plan that spells out the special education services a child will receive based on the results of the evaluation. The IEP Team develops goals as targets for the child to achieve and determines the instructional strategies needed so that the student can make progress in their educational program. An IEP is generally in effect for one calendar year, although the parents or school can request the IEP Team review the plan as needed.

The size and composition of IEP Teams varies depending upon the unique needs of the student. Generally, an IEP Team consists of:

  • One or both parents (Parents are strongly encouraged to attend all IEP meetings.);
  • The student, beginning at grade 9 or age 16 (If the student chooses not to attend, the IEP Manager must insure that the student’s preferences are reported.);
  • A special education teacher;
  • A “representative of the school district” who is empowered to make decisions on behalf of the school district;
  • Regular education teacher(s); and
  • Others at the invitation of the parents or district.

Progress toward meeting IEP goals is reported to parents the same time that report cards are distributed. If insufficient progress is being made toward reaching one or more IEP goals, the IEP Team should meet to review the appropriateness of the current IEP, and make revisions as needed.

Parents of students with disabilities who attend a non-public school within the geographic boundaries of Northfield Public Schools, including those students who are home-schooled, are eligible for an Individual Service Plan (ISP). While an ISP contains the same elements as an IEP, parents of non-public students have fewer options to pursue if they disagree with the district’s proposal to provide special education services.

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What is an IFSP?

An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a written plan for providing services to a student through interagency agreements. The IFSP is used most frequently developed for children ages birth through two years, element months.

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Secondary Transition Services

Transition services are designed to assist students in preparing to make the transition from school to the world of adulthood. Transition planning becomes a part of a student’s IEP during grade 9. In planning what type of transition services a student needs to prepare for adulthood, the IEP Team considers the following areas: post-secondary education and training, employment and independent living. The transition services themselves are a coordinated set of activities that are based on the student’s needs and that take into account his or her preferences and interests. Transition services can include instruction, community experiences, the development of employment and other post- school adult living objectives, and (if appropriate) the acquisition of daily living skills and a functional vocational assessment.

The student and his or her family are expected to take an active role in preparing the student to take responsibility for his or her own life once school is finished. Where once school provided a centralized source of education, guidance, transportation, and even recreation, after students leave school they will need to organize their own lives and navigate among an array of adult service providers and federal, state, and local programs. This can be a daunting task, one for which the student and his or her family need to be prepared.

Rice County CTIC

The Rice County Community Transition Interagency Committee (CTIC) was organized to assist students with disabilities by bringing together parents, school staff and service agency personnel to work cooperatively in providing a smoother transition from high school to the adult world. The Rice County CTIC has created two documents to assist families in the transition process:

  1. A resource directory provides information about agencies, services and other providers that can assist students and their families in the transition process, and
  2. A transition tracker serves as a checklist of potential activities, sorted by age, designed to help prepare students for life after high school.

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Extended School Year (ESY) Services

ESY is not the same as summer school. Summer school is optional and is offered at the discretion of districts, whereas ESY is a mandatory extension of special education services during breaks in regular instruction.

Although the specific reason(s) vary from student to student, the need for ESY arises when it is determined the student: 1) requires a significant amount of time to recoup a previously acquired skill or knowledge following an extended break from instruction and/or services; 2) the pupil is at a critical learning period and interrupting instruction and/or services will severely jeopardize the student’s ability to benefit from their program of specialized instruction; or 3) the break will prevent a student who is in a functional curriculum from attaining or maintaining self-sufficiency skills that allow for personal independence.


All students, disabled and non-disabled, experience regression during breaks in instruction. For the purposes of ESY Services, regression is a decline in the performance of a skill or acquired knowledge, as specified in the annual goal(s) of the student’s IEP, that occurs during a break in instruction.


A student’s ability to regain the skill performance or relearn the acquired knowledge to approximately the same level that existed just prior to the break in instruction.


Regression/recoupment is significant when the recoupment period is longer than the length of the break in instruction. For example, to be considered significant, the time needed to recoup/relearn a skill in the fall would need to be greater than three months – the length of the summer break.


Those functional skills necessary for a student to achieve a reasonable degree of personal independence as identified in the annual IEP goals for a student requiring a functional curriculum. Self-sufficiency goals include such areas as: toileting, eating, dressing, muscular control, personal mobility, impulse control, maintaining stable relationships with peers and adults, basic communication skills and functional academic competency.

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Restrictive Procedures

In accordance with Minnesota Statute 125A.0942, Subd. 1, all Minnesota school districts are required to develop and make public a plan that discloses its use of restrictive procedures. The plan specifically outlines the list of restrictive procedures the school intends to use; how the school will monitor and review the use of restrictive procedures, (including post-use debriefings and convening an oversight committee); and a written description of the training staff have received. View the district’s Restrictive Procedures Plan.

Mental Health Resources:

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Dismissal from Special Education

Students are no longer eligible to receive special education services when:

  • the team, following a comprehensive evaluation, determines the student is no longer eligible for or no longer needs specialized instruction;
  • the student graduates, having successfully completed the graduation requirements as prescribed by the Northfield Board of Education or as specified in the student’s IEP;
  • the student, who has not received a high school diploma, turns 21 prior to the start of the school year (a student who turns 21 during the school remains eligible to receive special education services until the end of that school year); or
  • the parent, or adult student, withdraws consent for special education.

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Third Party Billing

Minnesota law (M.S.125A.21) requires that school districts seek reimbursement from private and public health insurers for the cost of health-related services provided to students who receive special education services. If your child receives health-related services as part of their IEP, IFSP or IIIP, a member of your child’s team may ask your permission to share information with your insurer and/or physician in order to bill for these services.

Health-related services are developmental, corrective and supportive services that are required in order for a student to benefit from their program of specialized instruction. Health-related services include supports such as:

  • Diagnosis, evaluation and assessment;
  • Speech, physical and occupational therapies;
  • Audiology;
  • Paraprofessional/personal care assistant (PCA) services;
  • Mental health services;
  • Transportation; and
  • Health services such as nursing.

While districts are required to seek payment from both private and public insurers, Northfield Public Schools will seek to bill only public insurance – Medical Assistance (MA) and MinnesotaCare (MC). Billing public insurance has no impact on your child’s nor family’s medical coverage. Northfield Public Schools will not seek to bill private insurance, as doing so could cause your insurance rates to increase and/or have other negative effects on your child’s and family’s insurance coverage.

If your child is covered both by private insurance and MA/MC, the district will ask your permission to contact your private insurer to seek a denial of coverage (private insurers typically will not pay for services provided by schools). Once we have received a letter of denial, we will then bill your public insurance.

One of the most important things to know is that Minnesota laws offer protections to parents and students when schools bill MA or MC. These protections include:

  • Services provided by the district and paid by MA or MC do not count toward any monthly, annual or lifetime limits for the same or similar services. For example, if your child’s IEP includes occupational therapy services, it does not affect therapy service limits your child might need or receive from a rehab agency.
  • Services provided by the district and paid by MA or MC do not count toward any home care or waiver caps. For example, if your child’s IEP includes staff to assist with eating and toileting, it does not affect the amount of personal care assistant services your child can receive at home.
  • Services provided by the district and paid by MA or MC do not affect services you child gets from other providers, or those covered by a PMAP.
  • There are no parental fees nor co-pays for services provided by the district and paid by MA.
  • Services provided by the district and paid by MA does not count toward a spenddown.

Minnesota law requires that any money received from third party billing can only be used for three things:

  1. For the benefit of students with special needs within the district,
  2. To pay for the cost of doing third party billing, and
  3. For training and help to increase the amount of third party billing.

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What rights do parents have?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA ‘04) requires procedural safeguards that school districts must follow to protect the rights of parents and children. A copy of those safeguards are given to parents on multiple occasions throughout the special education process and may be downloaded by clicking on Parental Rights for Public School Special Education Students.

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Special Education Advisory Council

Minnesota law (M.S. 125A.24) requires that each district establish a Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC) to provide input to the district’s Board of Education and to district administration about policies and decisions that affect children and youth with disabilities. SEAC is composed of parents of children with disabilities, district special education staff and a representative from each non-public school located within the district.

SEAC Membership:

Anna Braun Margaret (Peggy) Fink
Vicki Kalina-Marvin Brenda Kragseth, Chair
Annie Oftedahl Lisa Malecha
Jill McCausland Jim Rossow
Karleen Sherman

If you are the parent of a child who receives special education services within Northfield Public Schools and are interested in becoming a member of the Special Education Advisory Council, please contact the Student Services Office at 507.645.3410.

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Who should I contact if I have questions about special education?

There are a number of people who can assist parents if they have questions. If your concerns are specifically related to the implementation of your child’s IEP, you should discuss them with your child’s IEP Manager. Parents might also elect to speak to their child’s building principal for questions related to both special and general education. Although the Director of Special Services cannot overrule an IEP team’s decisions, you may wish to contact the director if you cannot resolve a problem with the IEP Team.

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Additional Resources

There are many organizations that provide information and support to parents of children with disabilities. Links to several useful resources are available below.

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
Family Village
Federal Resource Center for Special Education
Federation for Children with Special Needs
Help Me Grow

MN Council for Exceptional Children (MN CEC)
Minnesota Parents Know
National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY)
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)
Parent Advocacy Center for Educational Rights (PACER) Center
Special Child Magazine for Parents of Children with Disabilities

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Special Education Staff

Cheryl Hall, Director of Special Services
Laura Greenlund, Special Services Secretary

Northfield Public Schools • ISD #659 • 1400 Division Street South • Northfield, MN 55057 • p 507.663.0600 • f 507.663.0611 • info@northfieldschools.org