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Does My Child Qualify for IEP Based Music Therapy?

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

Music therapy has shown to be an educationally enriching experience for differently abled learners and can support them in achieving academic goals. Music naturally supports and stimulates the foundations of learning needed to access education including: attention, motivation, information recall, emotional regulation, and sensory regulation. Board-certified music therapists in educational settings use music therapy interventions to create a learning environment through music. We use music as an educational support in the pursuit of educational goals outlined in the students’ IEP. With many differently abled students transitioning to online education, the use of music therapy as an educational tool continues to be a way to engage learners and promote access to their curriculum. But how do families access music therapy services through the school district?

In 2014, music therapy was officially added to the California Code of Regulations as a related service for qualifying students on an IEP (Title 5 § 3051.21). Excitingly, under this regulation music therapy became a protected educational asset for differently abled learners in the same way other related services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy are protected. Adding music therapy to an IEP is now no different than adding any other related service or academic accommodation. Music therapy must be made accessible in the California public school system if the service is determined to be academically relevant. If music therapy allows the student to participate in, and benefit from their educational programming in a way they otherwise cannot it must be provided at no additional cost to parents or caregivers.

In order to determine the eligibility of IEP-based music therapy services, four steps must be completed: request an assessment, create an evaluation plan, conduct a music therapy assessment and discuss the results with the IEP team.

1. Request an Assessment

Any member of the IEP team may request a music therapy assessment at anytime. Parents and guardians are an invaluable voice on the IEP team, and can request a music therapy assessment through their school district at no cost to them. Assessments from private music therapists can serve as a rational for the request as well additional information to support the relevance of IEP-based music therapy services, but do not take the place of a school-based assessment. If an assessment is requested, the school district must continue the process, even if they do not currently provide music therapy services at their school or in the district.

2. Create an Evaluation Plan

The IEP team must create an evaluation plan along with the music therapist who will conduct the music therapy assessment. Parents then sign off on the plan. The music therapy assessor must be board certified and hold the credential “MT-BC”. If a school or district does not have an on-staff music therapist, they are still required to find a MT-BC to conduct the assessment and continue to the next step of the process.

3. Conduct an Assessment

A board-certified music therapist (MT-BC), conducts an eligibility assessment to determine if IEP-based music therapy services are a required support for a learner to access their educational programming. This includes support of academic based goal performance as well as if music is an overall motivator or catalyst for learning for the student. Only a board-certified music therapist may conduct the assessment as outlined in the California Code of Regulations (Title 5 § 3051.21).

4. Discuss Results

After the assessment, the IEP team meets to discuss the results and any other relevant information. This can include a private music therapy assessment, and any IEP team members’ observations relating to music and the student. The IEP team (including parents) makes the final decision on whether or not the service will be added to the IEP based on all factors and available information. If music therapy is deemed appropriate and required by the IEP team, music therapy services are added to the students’ educational programming.

If music therapy is added to a students’ IEP, the assessor (or another board-certified music therapist) joins the IEP team and becomes a part of the interdisciplinary team working to support the educational development of the student. The music therapist monitors academic goals addressed through music and the continuation of the service in the same way as other related service providers.

Specific information about California Code of Regulations (Title 5 § 3051.21) is below, and can also be found here.


Special Education Law Supporting Music Therapy Services in More Detail:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) makes free and appropriate public education available to differently abled learners at the federal level. It requires: an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), the use of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Appropriate Evaluation, Parent and Teacher Participation and Procedural Safeguards.

California Code of Regulations | Title 5. Education Division 1. California Department of Education Chapter 3. Individuals with Exceptional Needs Subchapter 1. Special Education | Article 1. General Provisions

§ 3051.21. Music Therapy.

Rational for adding Music Therapy

SECTION 3051.21 is added to incorporate from proposed section 3065(l) language pertaining to the qualifications of persons who can provide music therapy. This section is also amended to include a definition of music therapy obtained from the Certification Board for Music Therapy. A definition for music therapy was added to the state regulations because the State Board of Education considers music therapy a valid related service to provide to students with disabilities, when appropriate.

Through the proposed regulation, the board can educate the public that music therapists are certified, and the board can require that music therapists be certified before providing music therapy to students with disabilities. Further, some local educational agencies have denied students with disabilities access to music therapy citing the absence of a definition of music therapy and certification requirements in state regulations as grounds for denial. This regulation should help to provide students who are considered eligible by their IEP teams with access to music therapy as a related service.

5 CCR § 3051.21

§ 3051.21. Music Therapy.

(a) According to the Certification Board for Music Therapists “Music therapy is the specialized use of music by a credentialed professional who develops individualized treatment and supportive interventions for people of all ages and ability levels to address their social, communication, emotional, physical, cognitive, sensory and spiritual needs.”

(b) Music therapy shall be provided only by personnel who hold a Music Therapist - Board Certified credential from the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) on the completion of all academic and clinical training requirements, and after successfully passing the CBMT National Board Certification Examination.

Note: Authority cited: Sections 56100 and 56366.1, Education Code. Reference: Section 56363, Education Code; and 34 C.F.R. Sections 300.34 and 300.156(b)(1).


1. New section filed 5-5-2014; operative 7-1-2014 (Register 2014, No. 19).

This database is current through 6/26/20 Register 2020, No. 26

5 CCR § 3051.21, 5 CA ADC § 3051.21

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