Early Childhood Special Education Services (ECSE)

The San Diego Unified School district provides special education services to students of preschool age 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 potentiality 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 meet the eligibility criteria, an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is developed to support their needs. 
  2. ECSE Preschool Program: This program serves children aged 2 years 11 months to 5 years of age who meet the eligibility criteria. If the child meets the criteria 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 are who are eligible for TK, may be assessed at their school of residence.
  4. Students who are recommended for placement in a SDUSD preschool program (by the IEP team) will need to enroll at that school site prior to attending school and receiving services.   


To start the referral process for Special Education services please fill out the linked form: Referral

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-e

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I request an evaluation for my child? 

Please fill out the referral form through the link above.

What is the procedure for evaluation?

Once the referral 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. 

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.

The ECSE department has several assessment teams whom are responsible for evaluating preschool-aged children. The core assessment team is normally comprised of a School Psychologist, a Nurse, a Speech/Language Pathologist, and an Occupational Therapist. Additional related service providers are included as needed for the child's specific needs. Parents need to be present during the assessment (either online or in person).

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 the needs of the student and the team will create goals and services to support the child. The IEP is a legal document, and is honored by other school districts within the US. 

What if my child has an IEP from another school district?

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. 

What happens when my child becomes eligible to enter kindergarten?

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 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.

For additional questions please contact the ECSE department. E-mail

Additional Resources

California Department of Education - Special Education 

California Department of Education - Parent Rights 

CDD Developmental Screening and Monitoring