Skip to Main Content

Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Guide

Your child may be eligible for Exceptional Student Education (ESE) services, or extra support at school for students with certain disabilities and special needs.

These services may include special types of lessons, more time on tests and other changes to the typical school day. The services are different for each student based on their needs. They are meant to help each student find success at school and prepare for life post-graduation.

For more information on ESE services, read the FAQs below. Visit School Resources for other CMS Health Plan education guides.


  • ESE services are for students ages 3 to 21 who have been determined eligible through a process with school district staff. There are ESE programs for specific conditions, including physical, intellectual and behavioral disabilities.
  • If you think ESE services may be right for your child, contact their Care Manager. Ask for a referral to the School Liaison Program (PDF).

  1. Referral. A request for evaluation must be made by school staff, a parent or an outside provider to identify what your child’s specific needs are.
  2. Consent Meeting. The evaluation team will meet to decide how to evaluate your child. You must sign a consent form to allow for your child to be evaluated by a licensed school psychologist.
  3. Evaluation. Based on the referral, a licensed school psychologist will interview, observe and test your child to evaluate their needs.
  4. Eligibility Determination. After the evaluation is complete, your child’s school will hold an eligibility staffing meeting. You will be invited. The group will review the results of your child’s evaluation and decide whether they are eligible for ESE services.

  • If your child is found eligible for ESE services, they will get an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IEP team will hold a meeting with you to talk about the services and supports your child needs to be successful at school.
  • IEP team members include:
    • You, the parent
    • General education teachers
    • A licensed school psychologist who can explain the results of your child’s evaluation and use them to create a specialized instruction plan
    • A person representing the school system who knows about ESE services and has authority to commit resources
    • People with knowledge or special expertise about your child and/or their condition who are invited by you and/or the school district
    • Anyone you invite that you feel would be helpful during the IEP process. This could be a friend, another parent or an advocate from CMS Health Plan. Let the school know in advance if you want to invite someone.
    • Your child, when appropriate, and when their final IEP is discussed

  • An IEP is an education plan designed specifically for your child. It must include three pieces of information, at minimum:
    • Your child’s current levels of educational performance
    • Your child’s educational goals
    • Your child’s special education and related services
    • Your child’s classroom and testing accommodations

  • The IEP team will also decide where your child will receive services. Most students with disabilities spend most of their school day in general education classrooms. Some leave general education classrooms for part of the day to receive ESE services. Fewer children spend all day in an ESE classroom or specialized school.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) says students who have a disability should be educated with non-disabled peers as much as possible. This means that your child should only be moved to an ESE classroom or specialized school if they are unsuccessful in a general education classroom or school.
  • Where your child receives ESE services will be based on their LRE, or least restrictive environment. The IEP team will decide your child’s LRE using the Continuum of Alternate Placement.

  • The Continuum of Alternate Placement shows the different settings where students can receive ESE services. They range from least restrictive to most restrictive.
  • Where your child lands on the scale is their LRE, or least restrictive environment. This is based on data on your child’s progress.
  • Parents and schools can’t pick or change a child’s LRE anytime. Your child’s school setting is based on progress data the IEP team monitors regularly. They use the data decide whether your child’s supports need to change.

Environments ranked from least restrictive to most restrictive

Environments ranked from least restrictive to most restrictive:

  1. General Education Classroom & Inclusion Classroom
  2. Special Education Classroom
  3. Specialized Day School
  4. Hospital Homebound
  5. Residential Facility


The level of support in each setting can be different for each student. The IEP outlines what services and supports should look like for them within their LRE. The chart below describes examples of what ESE services may be offered in each setting.

Educational SettingTime spent with non-disabled peersESE services offered by school

General Education and Inclusion Classroom

Most of the school day

Accommodations, 1:1 paraprofessional, assistive technology, push-in or pull-out services

Special Education Classroom

Parts of the school day

ESE-certified classroom teacher, 1:1 classroom paraprofessional, accommodations, assistive technology, push-in or pull-out services

Specialized Day School


Services and treatments for severe physical, mental, medical and cognitive disabilities, ESE-certified classroom teacher, 1:1 classroom paraprofessional, accommodations, assistive technology, push-in or pull-out services

Hospital Homebound (HH)


2-5 hours of weekly instruction from a Hospital Homebound teacher

Residential FacilityNoneAll services and support provided by treating facility

Source: Florida Department of Education