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Frequently Asked Questions: Eligibility

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Is there a form that MSSD requires for the Justification for Separate School Placement?

MSSD does not have a standard form, however, a format for the information and the content required is contained in the Missouri State Plan Regulation X and in the Eligibility Determination Resource Guide on this website. Answers to all eight (8) questions are required. The information included may seem repetitive, but each question has a different focus and all of the answers must be provided.

If the IEP team is considering public separate school as a placement option for the student, the district must document the justification for such placement in writing. This documentation must show that the district has:

  1. considered educating the child in the Local Education Agency (LEA);
  2. identified supplementary aids and services that would be needed to educate the child in the LEA; and,
  3. articulated why the LEA cannot serve the child in the LEA in a placement that would benefit the child.

When should we change the number of minutes and consider the student placement options on the IEP?

Placement options can be considered prior to submission of the student eligibility information to MSSD. However, the number of minutes in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) must reflect the level of the student’s current services. Therefore, the number of minutes should
not be changed until after the student is found eligible for MSSD’s services.

What documentation does the local school district need to send to MSSD for an eligibility determination?

The documentation required is explained in detail in the Eligibility Determination Resource Guide on this website. If all documentation required is not submitted, a letter will be sent to the district requesting the information.An eligibility determination can not be made without all required components.

What is the process/timeline for an eligibility determination?

When MSSD receives an eligibility determination packet from a district, a letter is sent to the student’s parents notifying them of the submission and providing them seven (7) days to contact MSSD with any information they may wish to provide. At the end of this time, the eligibility team reviews the information and determines:

  1. more information is needed; or
  2. the student is eligible; or
  3. the student is ineligible.

A letter is sent to the district setting forth of the decision or requesting further information. If the student is eligible, the notice shall specify the school site assignment should the student be referred.


While MSSD processes submitted eligibility packets as soon as possible, the entire process does take time since there is usually more than one step. In fact, in approximately 90% of the submissions the district is asked to provide other information or clarify statements made in the JOP. Because there is often a need for further information, it is advisable for districts to submit eligibility packets a few weeks before the end of the school year so that personnel will be available to provide the additional information and a decision on the student’s eligibility can be made prior to the start of the next school year.

What is the next step once the local school district has been notified that a student has been found eligible for MSSD?

The IEP team must determine if a referral to MSSD is the most appropriate placement for the student to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). If so, the district may refer the student to the MSSD program by submitting the referral form, a copy of the amended IEP, and a copy of the Notice of Action. The Individual Education Plan (IEP) team should amend
the IEP to reflect that MSSD operates for 1800 minutes of service per week. The IEP team should consider the range of placement options available for the student.


The district shall submit the referral only after the parents have been offered all rights available to them in relation to the Procedural Safeguards.


Upon receipt of the referral information, enrollment papers will be mailed to the parent by MSSD.


Within thirty (30) days following initial enrollment of the student in the MSSD, an IEP/placement review conference shall be held. The purpose of this review is to confirm the appropriateness of continued placement in the MSSD as the LRE to provide a free appropriate public education for the student.

A student currently attending MSSD moves into our district, how should we proceed in order to continue placement in MSSD?

A student who is enrolled in a school that is part of the MSSD district and moves from one home school district to another may transfer enrollment immediately on the basis of the justification for separate school placement, current IEP and evaluation report. Such a move is considered an interim placement, not to exceed thirty (30) days, during which the new local
district follows the transfer procedures outlined in Regulation III.3 of the State Plan, Procedures for Evaluation and Determination of Eligibility, to confirm placement in the MSSD as the least restrictive educational environment for the student. The district then compiles and submits to the MSSD the Agreement for Continued Placement under the existing IEP.

A student from another district who was in a separate day school facility (not part of MSSD) has recently moved into our district, what must we do in order to have MSSD consider eligibility or enrollment?

A thirty (30) day interim placement in the MSSD may be available for students with severe disabilities who are changing school districts due to a change in residence. These students must have been receiving services in their local district; through cooperative arrangement by their home district with another school district; in a special school district; or, in an out-of-state program for students with severe disabilities. To qualify for this interim placement, the criteria stated in Regulation X of the State Plan must be met:

  • The current IEP and evaluation report are adopted by the new school district pursuant to transfer procedures provided within Regulation IV., Least Restrictive Environment of the State Plan.
  • The new district submits a copy of the student’s current IEP and evaluation report to the MSSD with a letter acknowledging adoption of the documents. In the same letter, the new district will verify the previous placement provided educational services in a self-contained classroom with students with severe disabilities in a separate school
    building. In addition, the district requests that the student be served in a thirty (30) day interim placement to confirm concurrence with placement in the MSSD as the least restrictive educational environment for the student.
  • The MSSD will issue a letter of interim placement assignment if the information submitted is viewed as substantiating the request.
  • Enrollment paperwork must be completed at the onset of the thirty (30) day interim placement period. MSSD will notify the LEA of the date of the student’s enrollment.
  • During the thirty (30) day interim placement, the local district shall follow the referral procedures to seek eligibility determination in accordance with established MSSD referral procedures. Upon receipt of the referral, MSSD will issue a notice of action to the district and parents confirming continued placement in MSSD. If, during the thirty (30) day interim period, the local school district fails to submit the
    Justification of Separate School Placement (JOP), the student shall be served by the LEA.


If MSSD is not confirmed as the student's least restrictive educational environment, the local district is notified of this decision and becomes responsible for providing the required special education and related services in accordance with Missouri State Plan Regulation V,
Procedural Safeguards, and Regulation IV.2, Individualized Education Programs of the State Plan.

Where can I find the eligibility criteria for the disability categories under IDEA?

The definition and specific criteria required for each of the identified disability categories can be found in Section III. Identification and Evaluation of the Missouri State Plan for Special Education.    This document can be found at:   http://www.dese.mo.gov/schoollaw/rulesregs/Inc_By_Ref_Mat/documents/FinalReg-IIIIdentificationandEvaluation2010.pdf

Another good source for guidance on the specific criteria required for eligibility for each of the disability categories can be found in the Special Education Compliance:  Standards and Indicators Manual.  Each of the required criteria for each of the disability areas is described in detail along with descriptions of the components required for documenting each of the criteria in standards 600 - 2100.  This document can be found at: http://www.dese.mo.gov/divspeced/Compliance/StandardsManual/

Is the 1.5 standard deviation (SD) discrepancy between ability and achievement required to show an adverse impact on educational performance?

For all disability categories, adverse educational impact should come from a convergence of the data collected and reviewed by the eligibility team.  This includes both formal and informal assessment as well as formal and informal observations made before and during the evaluation.  Decisions should never be made on the basis of performance on only one test.  There are only four disability categories that specifically reference a standard deviation (SD) discrepancy in their eligibility criteria: Intellectual Disability/Mental Retardation, Language Disorder, Specific Learning Disability and Young Child with a Developmental Delay.

When a parent provides documentation of a medical or mental health diagnosis, how should this information be handled by the eligibility team?

The eligibility team has a duty to consider any information, including outside evaluations and a medical or mental health diagnosis, as it contributes to the process of determining if a student meets the eligibility criteria for a specific disability category.  This information should be referenced in the synthesis of information from the evaluation including all of the areas of functioning in the evaluation report.   It is important that the eligibility team take into consideration the credentials of the professional making the diagnosis as there are specific requirements in the eligibility criteria related to this.  Examples of this type of diagnosis would include Central Auditory Processing Disorder, ADD/ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc.

What is required to make a determination that a student is not eligible for special education services?

The eligibility team should consider all the possible disability categories that the student may be eligible for based upon a review of the existing data and any assessment data collected.  If there was reason to suspect a disability, state and federal guidelines require that the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not they are commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.  If after a careful review of the evaluation data and the eligibility criteria, the student is found not eligible for any disability category, this information should be included in the evaluation report as the basis for making the eligibility determination. 

What happens if the eligibility team does not agree on the conclusion?

State and federal law requires that upon completing the administration of tests and other evaluation materials, a group of qualified professionals and the parent of the child must determine whether the child is a child with a disability and the educational needs of the child.  If the team is not able to agree on the conclusion, it is the responsibility of the Local Education Authority (LEA) to make the final decision and to provide appropriate Notice of Action to the parent.  The parent then has the option to pursue due process if he/she disagrees with the decision of the LEA.  It is important to note that the  eligibility criteria requirements for the disability category of Specific Learning Disability also includes a requirement  that each team member, with the exception of the parent, must certify in writing whether the report reflects her/his conclusions.  If it does not, that team member must submit a separate statement presenting the member’s conclusions.

What is the difference between diagnosing a student with a disability and determining eligibility for a disability category?

This is based on the difference between a medical model and an educational model.  Simply having a medical diagnosis does not mean that a student will be eligible for a disability category under IDEA. 

In a medical model, a physician, psychiatrist, or other properly credentialed medical provider evaluates and diagnoses a child based on an array of symptoms which results in a medical diagnosis such as cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, etc.  Based on the diagnosis, a course of treatment is developed that could include medications, physical therapy, counseling, etc.

In an educational model, a group of individuals meeting the requirements of an IEP team conducts a review of existing data to determine the areas of concern that need to be evaluated and then additional assessments are conducted.  The same group of individuals meets again to review the results of the assessments and determines if the student meets the eligibility criteria for one of the disability categories under IDEA.  One of the main requirements for eligibility for special education under IDEA is that there must be an adverse educational impact for the student.  If there is no adverse educational impact, the student may not qualify for special education.  For example, the student may have a medical diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder,  but the disorder is being managed well and the student is able to maintain good grades and attend school regularly.  Because there is no adverse educational impact, the student would not qualify for special education. 

It is important that school district staff are clear that they are determining eligibility for special education services under IDEA and not diagnosing a disability.

Can professional judgment be used to make eligibility determinations?

Only certain eligibility categories allow for professional judgment in making eligibility determinations.  These categories are: Specific Learning Disability, Language Disorder, Sound System Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Young Child with a Developmental Delay.  No other categories permit eligibility determination through the use of professional judgment.

There are specific guidelines that must be followed to use professional judgment in determining eligibility for each of these disability categories.  It is important that the basis for the decision should be data based and that the basis for the decision is articulated through a clear summary in the evaluation report describing the rationale for the professional judgment.

Does “adversely affect educational performance” just mean grades and test scores?

The regulations under IDEA have made it clear that, when conducting evaluations, a variety of assessments tools and strategies must be used to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information.  It is OSEP’s stance that IDEA and the regulations clearly establish that the determination about whether a child is a child with a disability is not limited to information about the child’s academic performance.  Furthermore,  CFR 300.101(c) states that each state must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade and is advancing from grade to grade.  For example, some students on the higher end of the autism spectrum  get good grades or score well on tests but have significant concerns with social skills that may impact their success in life.  These students may have no friends, be inadvertently rude to teachers, not have the skills to interview for or keep a job, or lack functional skills that are necessary for life.  Adverse educational impact must be considered in the broad sense for a student’s educational career.

Does the Department consider it appropriate to use the eligibility category of Other Heath Impaired (OHI) for Asperger’s syndrome rather than educational autism?

Children with Asperger’s  syndrome would typically be found eligible for special education under the category of Autism as long as the child meets the eligibility requirements for that disability category.  While it is possible that a child with Asperger’s syndrome may also meet the criteria under an eligibility category other than Autism (for example, Language Impaired) it is unlikely that Asperger’s syndrome would truly fit under the description of Other Health Impaired which is a chronic or acute health problem that results in limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli – like diabetes, epilepsy, rheumatic fever, asthma, ADD/ADHD, lead poisoning, etc.

1.What are the evaluation criteria to be considered for Missouri Schools for the Severely Disabled?

The criteria for eligibility consideration are discussed at length in the Eligibility Determination Resource Guide on this website. Essentially, the student must be functioning overall in the severe range of ability (including adaptive behavior) of below four (4) standard deviations below the mean and MSSD must be the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for the student. Both criteria must be met. A single IQ score at or below the criterion level is not sufficient to qualify the student. The entire packet of information about the student is reviewed. Decisions on eligibility are made by a team of MSSD personnel and the decision on such eligibility is not appealable. The home district may resubmit new information for consideration, but all information previously submitted will also be included in the decision
making process. It is incumbent on MSSD to ensure that a student is appropriate for placement in our District.

The answers in the Justification for Separate School Placement (JOP) are used when determining whether or not MSSD would be the LRE for the student. Responses to all eight (8) questions are required.

What is the next step once the local school district has been notified that a student has been found eligible for MSSD?

The IEP team must determine if a referral to MSSD is the most appropriate placement for the student to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). If so, the district may refer the student to the MSSD program by submitting the referral form, a copy of the amended IEP, and a copy of the Notice of Action. The Individual Education Plan (IEP) team should amend
the IEP to reflect that MSSD operates for 1800 minutes of service per week. The IEP team should consider the range of placement options available for the student.

The district shall submit the referral only after the parents have been offered all rights available to them in relation to the Procedural Safeguards.

Upon receipt of the referral information, enrollment papers will be mailed to the parent by MSSD.

Within thirty (30) days following initial enrollment of the student in the MSSD, an IEP/placement review conference shall be held. The purpose of this review is to confirm the appropriateness of continued placement in the MSSD as the LRE to provide a free appropriate public education for the student.

What is the next step once the local school district has been notified that a student has been found eligible for MSSD?

The IEP team must determine if a referral to MSSD is the most appropriate placement for the student to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). If so, the district may refer the student to the MSSD program by submitting the referral form, a copy of the amended IEP, and a copy of the Notice of Action. The Individual Education Plan (IEP) team should amend
the IEP to reflect that MSSD operates for 1800 minutes of service per week. The IEP team should consider the range of placement options available for the student.

The district shall submit the referral only after the parents have been offered all rights available to them in relation to the Procedural Safeguards.

Upon receipt of the referral information, enrollment papers will be mailed to the parent by MSSD.

Within thirty (30) days following initial enrollment of the student in the MSSD, an IEP/placement review conference shall be held. The purpose of this review is to confirm the appropriateness of continued placement in the MSSD as the LRE to provide a free appropriate public education for the student.

A student currently attending MSSD moves into our district, how should we proceed in order to continue placement in MSSD?

A student who is enrolled in a school that is part of the MSSD district and moves from one home school district to another may transfer enrollment immediately on the basis of the justification for separate school placement, current IEP and evaluation report. Such a move is considered an interim placement, not to exceed thirty (30) days, during which the new local
district follows the transfer procedures outlined in Regulation III.3 of the State Plan, Procedures for Evaluation and Determination of Eligibility, to confirm placement in the MSSD as the least restrictive educational environment for the student. The district then compiles and submits to the MSSD the Agreement for Continued Placement under the existing IEP.

Are medical diagnoses or mental health diagnoses required for some of the disability categories?

Yes. Several of the disability categories refer to the necessity of medical or mental health diagnoses including:  Hearing Impairment/Deafness (a hearing impairment must be diagnosed by an audiologist), Orthopedic Impairment (an orthopedic impairment must be diagnosed by a licensed physician), Visual Impairment/Blindness (a visual impairment or a progressive vision loss has been diagnosed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist), Other Health Impaired (a health impairment has been diagnosed by a licensed physician, licensed psychologist, licensed professional counselor, licensed clinical social worker, or school psychologist), and Traumatic Brain Injury (a traumatic brain injury/head injury has been diagnosed by a licensed physician or through a neuropsychological assessment although his requirement can be met by professional judgment when the team determines that substantial data to document the medical basis for a head injury is present).

Does "adversely affect educational performance" just mean grades and test scores?

The regulations under IDEA have made it clear that, when conducting evaluations, a variety of assessments tools and strategies must be used to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information.  It is OSEP’s stance that IDEA and the regulations clearly establish that the determination about whether a child is a child with a disability is not limited to information about the child’s academic performance.  Furthermore,  CFR 300.101(c) states that each state must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade and is advancing from grade to grade.  For example, some students on the higher end of the autism spectrum  get good grades or score well on tests but have significant concerns with social skills that may impact their success in life.  These students may have no friends, be inadvertently rude to teachers, not have the skills to interview for or keep a job, or lack functional skills that are necessary for life.  Adverse educational impact must be considered in the broad sense for a student’s educational career.