Exceptional Student Education

Polk County’s Exceptional Student Education Department serves more than 18,000 students from preschool through 22 years of age. They include students with various disabilities as well as gifted learners.

Staff members work with students’ families and teachers to identify available services and programs to help these students succeed in school and in their lives beyond the classroom. Some examples of support services include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, mental health counseling, assistive technology and audiological evaluations.

We thank you for taking time to learn more about the ESE department and the special students who are our privilege to serve.

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PreK

Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Prekindergarten services are provided to children ages 3-5 who meet the criteria for any of the disabilities as defined by the Florida Department of Education.

SEDNET

SEDNET is a network of 19 regional projects that are comprised of the major child-serving agencies, community-based service providers, students, and their families. Local school districts serve as fiscal agents for each regional project.

FDLRS

The Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS) is a network of state and federally funded centers that provide support services to exceptional student educators, children, parents, and community agencies.

Gifted

The Gifted Program provides educational opportunities to gifted students, helping them develop to their full intellectual potential and become more cognizant of their socio-emotional needs.

Transition Program

Polk County Public Schools has a “Continuum of Services” in place to support students and families with their successful transition from school to careers.

ESE Programs & Related Services

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology includes items that assist students with completing tasks independently. Click here for more information.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder is characterized by an uneven developmental profile and a pattern of qualitative impairments in social interaction or communication, and the presence of restricted, repetitive, and/or stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

The Autism Support Team for Polk County Public Schools provides information to schools, parents and students about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), such as Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. The team consults with schools and supports the staff and students when needed. It also offers a variety of training opportunities for teachers, support staff, and administrators. The team provides information to parents about various supports offered in our community.

Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH)

A student who is deaf or hard-of-hearing has hearing loss that, aided or unaided, impacts the processing of linguistic information, and which adversely affects performance in the educational environment. The degree of loss may range from mild to profound.  Click here for more information. 

Developmental Delay (DD)

A student is classified as developmentally delayed when:

He or she is between birth and 2 years of age and has a delay in one or more of the following:

  1. Adaptive or self-help development
  2. Cognitive development
  3. Communication development
  4. Social/emotional development
  5. Physical/motor development

Or the child is 3-5 years of age and is developmentally delayed in one or more of the following areas:

  1. Adaptive or self-help development
  2. Cognitive development
  3. Communication development
  4. Social or emotional development
  5. Physical development, including fine, gross, or perceptual motor

Dual-Sensory Impairment (DSI)

Dual-sensory impairments affect both vision and hearing, the combination of which seriously impairs a student’s ability to acquire information, communicate, or function within the environment. Children may also have a degenerative condition that will lead to such an impairment.

Established Conditions (EC)

A student with an emotional/behavioral disability has persistent — meaning they are not sufficiently responsive to implemented evidence-based interventions — and consistent emotional or behavioral responses that adversely affect performance in the educational environment that cannot be attributed to age, culture, gender, or ethnicity.

  • Definition includes the terms:
    • Persistent” — Not sufficiently responsive to implemented “observed” evidenced- based interventions; exhibited for an extended period of time (six months prior to referral)
    • Consistent” — Exhibited in two or more settings; one setting must be school, others may be home, community, and/or transitioning to/from school
  • Requires that emotional/behavioral characteristics be present for at least six months prior to referral, except in “extraordinary circumstances.”
  • Allows for “extraordinary circumstances.”
    • For eligibility determination (prior to six months) to address acute onset of mental illness.
    • Exception must be approved by ESE director.
    • IEP team reviews placement within one year.
  • Adversely affects educational performance in the educational environment that cannot be attributed to age, culture, gender,and ethnicity (compared to peer group.)
  • Requires that schools and evaluation teams consider the student’s response to academic and behavioral interventions (RtI), which have been implemented with fidelity, before making a determination of Emotional Behaviors Disabilities.
  • Eligibility criteria includes both internal and external factors as a means to identify students:
    • Students may be considered as having an emotional/behavioral disability if they present internal factors that show as feelings, symptoms, or fears.
    • These factors may result in both internal and external manifestations.
    • Must prove that “external” factors are a result of “internal” factors.
    • Cannot be eligible if only “external” factors are present.

Functional Behavioral Assessment and a Positive Behavioral Intervention Plan are required for eligibility determination. Must show that the BIP has been implemented with fidelity.

Emotional/Behavioral Disability (E/BD)

This classification is applicable for children aged birth through two (2) years of age who are diagnosed with a physical or mental condition known to have a high probability of resulting in developmental delay or disability. Such conditions can include genetic disorders, metabolic disorders, neurological abnormalities and injuries, or severe attachment disorder.

Home-bound or Hospitalized (HH)

A homebound or hospitalized student is a student who has a medically diagnosed physical or psychiatric condition that is acute or catastrophic in nature, or a chronic illness, or a repeated intermittent illness due to a persistent medical problem, that confines the student to home or hospital, and restricts activities for an extended period of time. Click here for more information.

Intellectual Disability (InD)

An intellectual disability is defined as significantly below average general intellectual and adaptive functioning manifested during the developmental period, with significant delays in academic skills. Developmental period refers to birth to eighteen (18) years of age.

Language Impairment (LI)

Language impairments are disorders of language that interfere with communication, adversely affect performance and/or functioning in the student’s typical learning environment, and results in the need for exceptional student education. A Language impairment is defined as a disorder in one or more of the basic learning processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. These include:

  • Phonology – Phonology is defined as the sound systems of a language and the linguistic conventions of a language that guide the sound selection and sound combinations used to convey meaning;
  • Morphology – Morphology is defined as the system that governs the internal structure of words and the construction of word forms;
  • Syntax – Syntax is defined as the system governing the order and combination of words to form sentences, and the relationships among the elements within a sentence;
  • Semantics – Semantics is defined as the system that governs the meanings of words and sentences; and
  • Pragmatics – Pragmatics is defined as the system that combines language components in functional and socially appropriate communication.

The language impairment may manifest in significant difficulties affecting listening comprehension, oral expression, social interaction, reading, writing, or spelling. A language impairment is not primarily the result of factors related to chronological age, gender, culture, ethnicity, or limited English proficiency.

Technical Assistance Contact: Joanne Stidham

Occupational Therapy (OT) (Related Service)

A student who requires occupational therapy is one whose physical, motor, or neurological deficits result in a significant dysfunction in daily living skills, academic learning skills, adaptive, social or emotional behaviors in the educational setting. A student is eligible only when there is an existing ESE eligibility area and additional support from the occupational therapist is needed to achieve T/IEP goals.

Contact Teri Crace, 534-0930

Technical Assistance Contact: Judy Sanders

Other Health Impaired (OHI)

A student who requires occupational therapy is one whose physical, motor, or neurological deficits result in a significant dysfunction in daily living skills, academic learning skills, adaptive, social or emotional behaviors in the educational setting. A student is eligible only when there is an existing ESE eligibility area and additional support from the occupational therapist is needed to achieve T/IEP goals.

Contact Teri Crace, 534-0930

Technical Assistance Contact: Judy Sanders

Orthopedic Impairment (OI)

Orthopedic impairment means a severe skeletal, muscular, or neuromuscular impairment. The term includes impairments resulting from congenital anomalies (e.g. including but not limited to skeletal deformity or spina bifida), and impairments resulting from other causes (e.g., including but not limited to cerebral palsy or amputations).

Technical Assistance Contact: Joanne Stidham

Physical Therapy (PT) (Related Service)

A student who receives physical therapy is one who requires a specially prescribed program directed toward the development, improvement, or restoration of neuromuscular, or sensori-motor function, relief of pain, or control of postural deviations to attain adequate performance and achieve T/IEP goals in an educational setting. A physician’s prescription is required.

Contact Teri Crace, 534-0930

Technical Assistance Contact: Judy Sanders

Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

A specific learning disability is defined as a disorder in one or more of the basic learning processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest in significant difficulties affecting the ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematics. Associated conditions may include, but are not limited to, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, or developmental aphasia. A specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of a visual, hearing, motor, intellectual, or emotional/behavioral disability, limited English proficiency, or environmental, cultural, or economic factors.

Technical Assistance Contact: Judy Sanders

Speech Impairment (SI)

Speech impairments are disorders of speech sounds, fluency, or voice that interfere with communication, adversely affect performance and/or functioning in the educational environment, and result in the need for exceptional student education.

  • Speech sound disorder – A speech sound disorder is a phonological or articulation disorder that is evidenced by the atypical production of speech sounds characterized by substitutions, distortions, additions, or omissions that interfere with intelligibility. A speech sound disorder is not primarily the result of factors related to chronological age, gender, culture, ethnicity, or limited English proficiency.
    • Phonological disorder – A phonological disorder is an impairment in the system of phonemes and phoneme patterns within the context of spoken language.
    • Articulation disorder – An articulation disorder is characterized by difficulty in the articulation of speech sounds that may be due to a motoric or structural problem.
  • Fluency disorder – A fluency disorder is characterized by deviations in continuity, smoothness, rhythm, or effort in spoken communication. It may be accompanied by excessive tension and secondary behaviors, such as struggle and avoidance. A fluency disorder is not primarily the result of factors related to chronological age, gender, culture, ethnicity, or limited English proficiency.

Voice disorder – A voice disorder is characterized by the atypical production or absence of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, or duration of phonation that is not primarily the result of factors related to chronological age, gender, culture, ethnicity, or limited English proficiency.

Technical Assistance Contact: Joanne Stidham

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

A traumatic brain injury means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects educational performance. The term applies to mild, moderate, or severe, open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one (1) or more areas such as cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem-solving, sensory, perceptual and motor abilities, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, information processing, or speech. The term includes anoxia due to trauma. The term does not include brain injuries that are congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma.

Technical Assistance Contact: Donna Harvard

Technical Assistance Contact: Susan Markulec

Technical Assistance Contact: Joanne Stidham

Visually Impairment (VI): Blind and Partly Sighted

Students who are visually impaired include students who are blind, have no vision, or have little potential for using vision or students who have low vision. The term visual impairment does not include students who have learning problems that are primarily the result of visual perceptual and/or visual motor difficulties.

Contact Teri Crace, 534-0930

Technical Assistance Contact: Roberta Dailey

ESE Policies and Procedures (SP & P)

Procedural Safeguards

Notice of Procedural Safeguards for Parents of Students with Disabilities English | Spanish | Haitian-Creole

Procedural Safeguards for Exceptional Students who are Gifted English | Spanish

ESE Activities

ESE Projects

Special Olympics

Special Olympics is a global nonprofit organization targeting the nearly 200 million people round the world who have intellectual disabilities. The mission of Special Olympics POLK is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities who wish to participate, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.

Contact: Monica Campbell at 863.815.6671, or fax 863.815.6673. The office is located at Sleepy Hill Middle School, 2215 Sleepy Hill Road, in Lakeland.

Polk Special Olympics

Very Special Arts

VSA is an international nonprofit organization which is dedicated to artistic excellence and to providing educational opportunities through the arts for people with disabilities. Over one million people in Florida participate in VSA of Florida programs!

VSA of Florida annually provides direct services to over 45,000 people with disabilities, as well as 200,000 teachers, parents and peers. Each year, VSA of Florida trains 5,000 teachers, as well as hundreds of artists, administrators, juvenile justice personnel, and social, community service and healthcare providers. Through an extensive network of partnerships with museums, educational and recreational programs, healthcare and social services agencies, correctional facilities, and performing arts centers VSA of Florida nurtures independence, learning skills and self worth.

VSA of Florida is an educational state affiliate of VSA hosted by the University of South Florida. VSA was founded in 1974 by Jean Kennedy Smith as an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Contact Terry Fields, 863-679-4337

Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS)

The Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS) is a network of state and federally-funded centers which provide support services to exceptional student educators, children, parents, and community agencies.

Contact FDLRS, 863-647-4258

Click here to visit the FDLRS Webpage.

Florida Inclusion Network (FIN)

Integrated into FDLRS, FIN provides learning opportunities, consultation, information and support to educators, families, and community members resulting in the inclusion of all students.

Bonnie Dupuis, FIN Facilitator

Click here to visit the FIN Webpage.

Multi-agency Network for Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities (SEDNET)

The Multi-agency Service Network for Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities (SEDNET) creates and facilitates a network of key stakeholders committed to promoting a quality, comprehensive system of care for children with, or at risk of, emotional/behavioral disabilities (E/BD) and their families.

Tracy Dasher, SEDNET Project Manager/PBS District Coordinator, 863-534-0930

Click here to visit the Region 14 SEDNET Webpage.

Click here to visit the state SEDNET homepage.

Listing of Schools by Service Area:

Additional ESE Support for the West and North Central Areas: 863-648-3248

Auburndale Central Elementary Carlton Palmore Elementary Clarence Boswell Elementary
Cleveland Court Elementary Dixieland Elementary Dr. N.E. Roberts Elementary
Edgar L. Padgett Elementary Highlands Grove Elementary James W. Sikes Elementary
Kathleen Elementary Kingsford Elementary Lake Alfred Elementary
Lena Vista Elementary Lincoln Avenue Academy Medulla Elementary
North Lakeland Elementary Polk City Elementary R. Bruce Wagner Elementary
R. Clem Churchwell Elementary Scott Lake Elementary Sleepy Hill Elementary
Socrum Elementary Southwest Elementary Valleyview Elementary
Wendell Watson Elementary

Additional ESE Support for the North East and South East Areas: 863-534-7480

Alta Vista Elementary Alturas Elementary Anna Woodbury Elementary
Bartow Elementary Academy Ben Hill Griffin Jr. Elementary Bethune Academy
Chain of Lakes Elementary Eagle Lake Elementary Elbert Elementary
Floral Avenue Elementary Frank E. Brigham Academy Fred G. Garner Elementary
Frostproof Elementary Garden Grove Elementary Gibbons Street Elementary
Haines City Head Start Highland City Elementary Horizons Elementary
James E. Stephens Elementary Jean O’Dell Learning Center Lewis Elementary
Loughman Oaks Elementary Palmetto Elementary Pinewood Elementary
Sandhill Elementary Spessard L. Holland Elementary Spook Hill Elementary
Wahneta Elementary Winter Haven Head Start

Additional ESE Support for Middle Schools: 863-499-2826

Bartow Middle Citrus Ridge: A Civics Academy Daniel Jenkins Academy of Technology
Davenport School of the Arts Doris A Sanders Learning Center Dundee Ridge Middle Academy
Gause Academy of Leadership Jere L. Stambaugh Middle Jewett Middle Academy Magnet
Jewett School of the Arts Karen M. Siegel Academy Lake Gibson Middle
Lake Marion Creek Middle Lakeland Highlands Middle Lawton Chiles Middle Academy
Mulberry Middle PACE Center for Girls REAL Academies
Rochelle School of the Arts Rosabelle W. Blake Academy Sleepy Hill Middle
Union Academy

Additional ESE Support for High Schools: 863-956-2082

Auburndale Senior High Bartow Senior High Bill Duncan Opportunity Center
Department of Juvenile Justice – Out of County Donald E. Woods Opportunity Center East Area Adult School
Fort Meade Middle-Senior Fresh Start Davenport Fresh Start Lakeland
Frostproof Middle-Senior George W. Jenkins Senior High Haines City High School
Harrision School for the Arts International Baccalaureate at Bartow High International Baccalaureate at Haines City High
Kathleen Senior High Lake Gibson Senior High Lake Region Senior High
Lakeland Senior High Mulberry Senior High Ridge Community High
Ridge Technical College Ridge Teen Parent Program Roosevelt Academy
Summerlin Academy Tenoroc High Traviss Technical College
West Area Adult School Winter Haven Senior High

Additional ESE Support for School Improvement: 863-535-6485

Combee Academy of Design & Engineering (CODE) Crystal Lake Elementary Crystal Lake Middle School
Denison Middle Dundee Elementary Academy Eastside Elementary
Griffin Elementary Inwood Elementary Jesse Keen Elementary
John Snively Elementary Kathleen Middle Lake Alfred Polytech Academy
Lake Shipp Elementary Laurel Elementary McLaughlin Middle School and Fine Arts Academy
Oscar J. Pope Elementary Philip O’Brien Elementary Purcell Elementary
Shelley S. Boone Middle Southwest Middle Walter Caldwell Elementary
Westwood Middle Winston Academy of Engineering