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Transferring School Districts with an IEP

Transferring School Districts with an IEP

Published: Jan. 31, 2024Updated: Feb. 17, 2024

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Transferring a child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to a new school can be a stressful process. Whether due to moving voluntarily, seeking a more suitable learning environment, or even relocating due to military service, the process can come with an array of challenges. Luckily, it’s possible to ensure a smooth transition for your child! This article aims to provide insights into the transfer process, covering key steps as you begin to transition from your child’s current school and settle into the new one.

Determining your school district

Relocating is a common reason for families to consider switching schools. While deciding to move is the first major step in this process, once you’ve determined the general area to move to, you must be aware of the various school district zones. Understanding where the school district zone is will help you narrow down the precise area/neighborhood you will be moving to. You can use this tool to find schools based on your zip code.

Next, ensure the school district aligns with your family’s educational needs by touring prospective schools. Make the most of these school visits by bringing our handy K-12 Tour printout with you when touring future schools.

If you have your sights set on a specific program or campus within the district, start by talking to your district's Special Education Department or SELPA office (if relocating to or within California) to understand the different programs located in your district. This information can be instrumental not only in guiding your decision on where to move but also in ensuring that your child remains eligible to participate in these specialized programs.

In this video, special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka gives parents some advice on what to ask when touring schools:

Switching schools but not moving

Many factors can play into why you and your family have decided to consider switching schools within or outside of your district. It’s not uncommon for parents to explore other options if they are dissatisfied with their child’s current school. Before you begin your search elsewhere, it’s important to distinguish the two types of district transfers:

  1. Interdistrict: when parents/guardians wish to enroll their child at a school outside of their district.
  2. Intradistrict: when parents/guardians wish to enroll their child at a different school within their district

Obtaining either an interdistrict or intradistrict permit is the only way you will be allowed to transfer schools (without moving). A transfer permit is typically difficult to obtain.

Here are a few reasons your district might grant you a permit to transfer:

  1. A parent or guardian is employed at a different school/school district. If at least one parent/guardian is physically employed at a school or district outside of their child’s designated school, the child may be granted a permit to transfer. However, if their parent/guardian ceases to be employed by the school, the child’s transfer may be revoked.

  2. Your child is experiencing bullying. When bullying interferes with a child’s ability to receive proper education, the school should be made aware of the situation and promptly stop it. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and when/if the bullying persists, it could be considered harassment and a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) violation. In situations where the bullying becomes overwhelming, schools, at the parents’ request, may issue a permit for transfer with priority given to selecting the desired school to transfer to.

  3. Your child is currently enrolled in a low-achieving school. California law dictates that students have the option to secure a permit to transfer to a school with a higher API (academic performance index).

  4. A parent/guardian is in the military. Due to most military families being at a geographic disadvantage based on where they are assigned, some schools will allow military families to obtain a transfer permit or will modify their open-enrollment policies entirely.

Ultimately, even if you secure a permit to transfer from your school/school district, your child still needs to be approved to leave their old school and be accepted into their desired new school, meaning there’s a chance your child will be waitlisted or not be granted entrance at all. Often, students with extensive support needs unfortunately hear that there's no room. (It is difficult not to assume that this is due to the expense.) Despite legal safeguards to prevent discrimination, this can happen. Feel free to reach out to an advocate or attorney at any time to assist you.

Steps to Transferring School Districts With An IEP

Initiating the transfer process

Once your family has determined the school your child will be attending and initiated the registration process, it’s time to notify both your child’s new and current schools about the transfer. Your child’s current school may provide a form for you to complete, or you may have to submit a written letter detailing the move's timing.

Education advocate Lisa Carey reminds us that after informing your child’s current school about your family’s move, take the initiative to request your child’s school records. Once you’ve obtained them, take the time to carefully review these records, which contain your child’s grades, test scores, health records, and more. While many schools automatically forward these records to your child’s new school (and are legally allowed to do so without parental consent), it’s a good idea to request a review beforehand to double-check their accuracy.

In cases where the receiving district requires additional information, they have the option to request the records to more thoroughly evaluate your child’s needs and placement. Unsure about the extent of information to share? Carey recommends that you “share everything to speed the process up… [and] not try to exclude information, as often the information is interwoven into many important documents and records.” Sharing as much information as possible allows for your child to receive the necessary support and services needed.

Preparing for the IEP moving/transfer meeting

Once the new school has accepted your child, notify them that your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) so both schools can set the stage for a smoother transition for you and your child. We strongly recommend requesting an IEP transfer/moving meeting with your child’s current school before transitioning to the new school. Remember that you will need to give the school 30 days to schedule the meeting. The significance lies in the fact that the last signed IEP serves as the controlling document for the first 30 days at the new school. Make sure that current arrangements that are not documented are added.

What to bring up in the IEP moving meeting:

  • Present levels of performance
  • Accommodations/modifications
  • Strengths and challenges
  • Types of services provided
  • Specific goals
  • Preferred learning style
  • Current evaluations and assessments

Being equipped with the necessary documentation ensures your readiness for the upcoming IEP team meeting for your child.

Connecting with your new IEP team

Building a rapport with your new IEP team is a great way to ease the transition to your child's new school. Kickstart this process by introducing yourself to the new school's special education director and principal as soon as possible. In larger districts, you will more than likely be introducing yourself to a local administrator. Regardless, these individuals should introduce you to the members of your new IEP team. It is important to note that for those relocating, you need to know your new address before this meeting can be conducted.

Connecting with your child’s new IEP team is vital! For families moving from out of state, your child’s new school district may like to do their own evaluation. Consequently, your child may be required to obtain a new evaluation (if it has been over a year since their last evaluation) to see if they are still eligible for their special education services. Connecting with your special education director or IEP team right away is important to determine whether your child needs a new evaluation before they begin attending their new school.

Additionally, try to connect your child’s current IEP team to their new IEP team to help this transition. By doing so, you’re preparing the new team to better understand your child’s individual characteristics and behavioral interventions, as well as the various methods of implementing your child’s IEP.

Attending the IEP meeting

The school is legally required to hold an IEP meeting within the first 30 days only if a student transfers to a new district or from out of state. During those 30 days, your child’s existing IEP remains effective until the new IEP is signed. It is a great idea to prepare a vision statement to introduce your child and your hopes and dreams for them.

Once your new IEP meeting takes place, it can go one of two ways:

  1. The school will keep your child’s existing IEP.
  2. They will develop a new IEP to better fit your child’s needs.

Keeping the IEP

For residents in California, if during the IEP meeting the district determines that the current IEP is appropriate and can be implemented, the current IEP will remain in place. If your new school is keeping the existing IEP, then they are legally required to provide comparable services to those your child was previously enrolled in. This IEP will remain in place unless the parent and the school district mutually decide to create a new IEP that aligns with your child’s needs.

In circumstances where your original IEP is carried over, the school must accept your child’s existing IEP, and they must have an annual review before the IEP is a year old.

We recommend keeping a record of the last time your child’s IEP was reviewed and (if possible) schedule the annual review as soon as you can.

Developing a new IEP

If your child is entering a new school/district or is moving from out of state in a new academic year, the school is required by IDEA to convene an IEP meeting, including the parent/guardian, and create a new IEP that is properly adjusted to your child’s grade level and needs.

Another reason why your new school may have to develop a new IEP is if they are not able to support your child's needs. Lisa Carey explains, ”Your child will attend the home school assigned to your address unless that school does not have the placement that is listed on the IEP,'' meaning if the school does not have the necessary services for your child, then your child may be placed at another school in the district that does. Regardless, your child should still receive a similar quality and frequency of services at their new school for at least 30 days after the transfer, and their placement shouldn’t change even if the location does. In cases like this, your new school will have to develop a new IEP and work with the SELPA to fulfill those required services.

Working with the SELPA in California

In instances where your new school district does not offer an equivalent program at one of their schools, they work with their Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) to coordinate with neighboring school districts, often including the county office of education, to fulfill the student’s needs. In California, all school districts belong to SELPAs, which maintain and oversee special education programs and services, and can also provide adaptive equipment and other accommodations and devices that are outlined in a student’s IEP. Some smaller districts are a part of a multidistrict SELPA and may use local education agencies (LEAs) such as neighboring districts.

It’s crucial to note that your child still has to be enrolled in the district of residence (even if their program is located in a different district). The reason is that the district might deem another school within the district to be a “better fit” to support your child’s needs. Lisa Carey mentions, “The district might prefer that the child with an inclusive placement attends the school that already has inclusive practices, such as co-teachers and inclusion specialists, set up. IDEA does state a preference for your home school — the school that the child would be educated in if they were not disabled — and you can make a strong argument for your child needing to be in your community and getting to know your neighbors’ children.”

Ultimately, the SELPA helps support districts that need more options, and your child will go based on their needs/placement determined by their IEP team. To reiterate, there's a genuine possibility that the school initially designated for your child may not be the one they ultimately attend. This scenario arises if the specialized program they require is exclusively offered at a different school or program within the same district.

Charter schools

Some charter schools are their own LEA and are under a different SELPA. In this case, enrolling in the charter school works the same as enrolling in a different district. However, participants at charter schools often earn a spot based on a lottery system. When you are offered a place through the lottery, you have a limited time to decide to enroll. During this time you may have very limited information about what your child’s offer of FAPE will be. Once your child is enrolled, the charter school will hold an IEP meeting within 30 days (much like at a non-charter school), and your child’s existing IEP will remain in effect for the initial 30 days leading up to the IEP meeting.

What to do when a school says they don’t do inclusion

Many children with disabilities thrive in inclusive education. However, not all schools or districts do it well. Hearing the words “we don’t do inclusion” is a hard pill to swallow when you’re hoping for an inclusive placement for your child. However, it’s important to remember that you have the law on your side in situations like this. If a public school or school district says that they don’t do inclusion, they are in violation of the Individuals with Education Disabilities Act.

Charter schools and districts cannot discriminate against a child with a disability where enrollment is concerned — they cannot outright refuse your child placement based on their disability. However, that doesn’t mean that discrimination doesn’t happen in more subtle ways. Undivided content specialist and inclusion advocate Karen Ford Cull points out, “Often instead [schools] accept the student, implement their IEP really poorly, and then at that first IEP explain that while they adore your child, they are really not equipped to the challenge, so it really would be in your interests to take them elsewhere.“ To ensure inclusivity in your child's school, take preemptive measures by asking questions about inclusion when touring.

Here are a few steps you can take if the school claims they don’t do inclusion or if they cannot support your child appropriately:

  • Ask the school to clarify what they mean. Are they saying that they are not offering inclusion as part of your child’s IEP, or are they saying that they don’t offer special education services as a whole?

  • Ensure that you’re speaking with your child’s IEP team. The only people who have the power to determine what their school/school district does and does not offer is your child’s IEP team.

  • Make sure you keep a written record of the school not offering inclusion. In circumstances where it is spoken, ask them to put what they said in writing. This could be helpful if you need legal assistance.

Moving out of state

For those moving out of state, be aware that certain states have different ways of providing IEPs (they may even call it something else). This is primarily due to how certain states implement IDEA. Here are a few tips if you’re moving out of state:

  • Find an advocate who is trained in the regulations for that state. A great way to get started is to connect with your local Parent Training and Information Center (PTI).

  • Connect with local and state chapters of national organizations based on your child’s diagnosis, such as NDSC, Autism Society, or CPF.

  • Join your child’s school PTA or PTO to create stronger connections with fellow parents and school staff.

  • Connect and explore special education groups specific to the districts you're interested in. Whether it's an official district advisory group or a parents-only Facebook group, reaching out to fellow parents for a phone call can provide valuable insights. What works well for one child might not be the best fit for another, so hearing from multiple parents can be incredibly beneficial. After all, parents have the real scoop on the ground!

It’s important to recognize that adjustments take time, and it’s okay to navigate through these transitions at your own pace. Make sure to give you and your child grace during this time period, and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance by reaching out to your loved ones for support. For additional insights on self-care, check out our article here.

Tips for preparing your child’s transition to their new school

Starting at a new school can be a nerve-wracking experience for any child, and let’s be honest, parents too. That’s why we’ve come up with a few tips to help ensure your child’s smooth transition to their new school.

  • Create an IEP at a Glance for their new teachers. An IEP at a Glance is a one- to two-page summary of your child’s IEP. Check out Undivided’s IEP at a Glance template.

  • Reach out to your child’s former teacher(s) at their old school and ask them to write about what works well and what doesn’t work for your child. (This can be included in the IEP at a Glance.)

  • Take your child on a tour of their new school to help them adjust. Most schools will allow you to arrange a campus visit before your child’s first day of school. Going through your child’s schedule and making sure they know how to get to each classroom and the bathroom, the cafeteria, the nurse’s office, etc. can help calm those back-to-school jitters so they’re more comfortable with the change in environment. Bring our Campus Orientation Checklist with you on the tour. You can also take photos of the campus and of the classroom during the tour and use them to make social stories.

  • Attend beginning-of-the-year events hosted by the school: open houses, general education tours, transition camps, etc.

  • To help them adjust to their new school routine, assist your child in creating a visual schedule. Visual schedules are amazing for helping kids with routines, especially when transitioning to a new daily schedule or staying motivated to complete tasks.

  • Social Stories can be great to help your child prepare for their new school. There are many available on the internet, or if you have time, you can create a customized one specific to your child.

  • To avoid rushing the morning of their first day of class, create a list of items that your child will need to bring to school, and get those items ready in advance. Run down the list again as you send your kiddo out the door to make sure nothing is forgotten!

IEP follow-up

Having your 30-day IEP meeting is important to ensure a smooth transition. We suggest scheduling this meeting approximately four to six weeks after the first day at the new school. The purpose is to verify that the IEP is being implemented effectively and that your child is comfortable in their new school. This proactive step is essential for establishing a positive working relationship with your IEP team and addressing any challenges that may arise during the adjustment to a new school environment. It's important to note that if your child is relocating to a different SELPA or out of state, a 30-day check-in is a legal requirement that ensures the school is successfully following your child's educational plan.

For more information on following up on your child’s education, check out this video with Dr. Pelangka:

Navigating the process of transferring a child with an IEP to a new school requires careful consideration of various factors. From navigating the transfer process, to collaborating with your new IEP team, to actively engaging with the new community, it’s important to feel empowered during this process. Understanding the steps involved in moving/transferring schools helps create a seamless transition for your child's education and success. Check out Undivided’s Education and IEP Template Library for more resources to use during this transition process.



Determining your school district

Switching schools but not moving

Initiating the transfer process

Preparing for the IEP moving/transfer meeting

Connecting with your new IEP team

Attending the IEP meeting

Keeping the IEP

Developing a new IEP

Working with the SELPA in California

Charter schools

What to do when a school says they don’t do inclusion

Moving out of state

Tips for preparing your child’s transition to their new school

IEP follow-up

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Kylie CooperWriter and Content Assistant

Reviewed by

  • Karen Ford Cull, Undivided Content Specialist
  • Adelina Sarkisyan, Undivided Editor and Writer
  • Brittany Olsen, Undivided Editor


  • Dr. Sarah Pelangka, special education advocate, BCBA-D, and owner of Know IEPs
  • Lisa Carey, Undivided's Education Advocate

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Each piece of content has been rigorously researched, edited, and vetted to bring you the latest and most up-to-date information. Learn more about our content and research process here.
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