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Early Childhood Special Education Services (ECSE)


The San Diego Unified School district (SDUSD) provides special education services to early learners through the Early Childhood Special Education Department (ECSE). ECSE is a state and federally mandated program for preschool children who meet the eligibility criteria with a federal handicapping condition.  Eligibility for children is determined through an assessment process guided by established federal and state rules and regulations, based on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

School districts and other public agencies are obligated to participate in "child find" which includes outreach to locate, identify and/or evaluate students who are potentially eligible children in order to offer a free & appropriate public education.  Special education is a system of supports and services for children who require specially designed instruction to gain educational benefit. These services are provided through federal, state, and district funding under the IDEA.

It is the goal of the SDUSD ECSE Department to support district families by providing a unique program for each child to ensure they each achieve their highest potential.

The San Diego Unified School District ECSE program supports children who live within our district boundaries as follows:

  1. ECSE Infant Program: SDUSD serves a limited number of infants (birth to 35 months) through interagency collaboration with California Early Start. For children who are eligible for special education, an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is developed to support their needs.
  2. ECSE Early Learning Program: This program serves children aged 2 years 11 months to 5 years of age who are eligible for special education. For eligible children, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed to support their needs. Although many community partners may recommend assessment, the request must come from the child's legal parent/guardian.
  3. Students who are age-eligible for Early Learning TK 4 | Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK) can enroll and be assessed at a site with a TK4 | UTK program. Please see the chart below for guidance.
  4. Students who are recommended for placement in a SDUSD program (by the IEP team) will need to enroll at that school site prior to attending school and receiving services.  


 Use this chart to help determine your next steps for connecting with the appropriate staff to address your request for an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education. 

Find the statement that matches your child’s age in the left column, and read to the right to determine your next steps.


Your child’s current age


Your next steps


My child has turned 3 and will not be 4 by September 1 of the current school year

Complete the referral form linked : here.

My child is currently 3 AND we have an IEP from another school District

Send a copy of your child’s current signed and implemented IEP to Liza Zamora

If you are unable to email a copy of the IEP, please call 858-490-8533 and leave a message with your call-back information.

*My child has not yet turned 3 AND my child is a client of San Diego Regional Center

When a child who is a client of the San Diego Regional Center is approaching their 3rd birthday a meeting is held to facilitate the transition from an IFSP to an IEP.


Please complete the referral form.so the District can complete an assessment with your child as part of this transition process.


My child turns 4 on or before September 1 of the current school year

Your child is age-eligible to enroll in TK4 | UTK with the San Diego Unified School District.


56 school sites across San Diego Unified School District offer Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK). A list of those sites is at this link.

Please contact the school site closest to your school of residence (use this link to determine your school of residence) that has the Early Learning TK4 | UTK program. The site will be able to inform you if they have space available in their UTK classroom.


If you enroll your child at the UTK school site, the Special Education Team at the site will engage with you regarding your child’s educational needs.


If there is no availability to enroll your child, or if you choose not to enroll in UTK at this time, please complete the referral form found at this link.


My child turns 5 by September 1 of the current school year.

Enroll your child as a Kindergarten student at your school of residence.

This link will help you determine your school of residence.

The Special Education Team at your school of residence will engage with you regarding your child’s educational needs.

My child turns 5 between September 2 and December 2 of the current school year

For the 2021-2022 school year, you can elect to enroll your child in TK at your school of residence.

The Special Education Team at your neighborhood school will engage with you regarding your child’s educational needs.

Is today’s date after March 1, 2022?

Will your child be eligible for kindergarten next school year (i.e., 5 by September 1, 2022)?

If you answered “YES” to both questions .---->

Contact your school of residence to begin the assessment process.


For support with the referral process please contact the ECSE department. E-mail


Para iniciar el process de petición para servicios de Educación Especial por favor complete la forma en el enlace:  Solicitud.

Para ayuda con el proceso de petición favor de comunicarse con el departamento de ECSE:  Correo-electronico





Please consult the chart above to determine your next steps for requesting an evaluation.


Once the referral for assessment is submitted, the parents will be notified in 15 days regarding next steps.  In general, the parent will either be offered an assessment plan and/or a prior written notice document declining the referral to assess.

As indicated in the chart above, if your child is 3 or will be 4 after September 1 of the current school year, if the team moves forward with an assessment, the parents will be put in contact with one of our ECSE  assessment teams.  The parent will be walked through the process and given documentation to return to the team.  Once the documents are signed the team has 60 days to evaluate the student.

After the evaluation is complete, an IEP meeting is scheduled to review the results with parents. If it is determined that the child is eligible for special education services, an Individual Education Program (IEP) will be developed. The IEP identifies the needs of the student for which the team will create goals and recommend services to support the child. The IEP is a legal document, and is honored by other school districts within the US.


If your child is currently 3 or will turn 4 after September 1 of the current school year, please contact the ECSE office to send a copy of the IEP from the last school district. The ECSE department will review the document and determine next steps to hold an interim IEP and provide comparable services.


Students transition from the ECSE program to Kindergarten. Parents can register their students at their neighborhood school or request enrollment at the school of their choice via the Neighborhood Schools Enrollment Options Program (please check deadlines in the fall).  A transition IEP will be held and the students' IEPs will be updated to reflect the change to Kindergarten.

The Special Education Department hopes that the above information answers the initial questions that parents may have about ECSE's services and procedures. Parents are welcome to call the ECSE department for any further information and assistance.




California Department of Education - Special Education

California Department of Education - Parent Rights

CDD Developmental Screening and Monitoring