Non-Violent Crisis Intervention

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

ABC learningI was reviewing some articles about special education service delivery and came across a list of current issues that are on the minds of SPED teachers and leaders. One of them was:

How should children with disabilities be disciplined when they pose a threat to school staff and to other students?

Teaching is an isolating activity; at least it certainly seems so at times. Between the bells, you are in a room with 15 students who are diverse in many ways. They have different intellectual abilities, some have physical disabilities that need special attention and some, if not most, have behavioral issues that affect the way your classroom is managed on a day-to-day basis. This behavior piece has always been my greatest challenge. What is the balance between discipline for a single incident of misbehavior and a consistent plan or approach for managing difficult behaviors among all of your challenging students?

Obviously, the latter is what you aim for. Once you have a consistent plan in place and everyone knows the rules, shouldn’t things fall into place and discipline become easier? It certainly can become easier, but there are always incidents of behavior that defy your classroom routine. Some students bring pain and emotional stress into your classroom that you cannot even imagine. The stress is like an overfilled balloon; it eventually needs to be released, and you are the only thing keeping the explosion from hurting that student or others in your care.

SPED teachers receive some specialized training in defusing tensions, but this never seems enough when a child explodes. When the explosion becomes a fight between two students, the instinct is to jump in and pull them apart. We know from our training, though, that this is the wrong thing to do. You could be injured, thus leaving no one in charge, and further injuries can happen. The procedure is always to get assistance. I remember when classrooms had no phones and we had no idea what a cell phone was.

teacher timeA few years ago, we brought in a crisis intervention team to provide training for our teachers in handling just such events. We used a company called CPI; they sent a team to our district and managed a four-day seminar in non-violent crisis intervention including restraint training: how to touch or otherwise handle a student in crisis who needs to be restrained so he doesn’t hurt himself or others. It was one of the best investments we’ve made for our staff. It was so effective that we’ve expanded the training to our entire staff on a voluntary basis. We may even make it mandatory. One of the great things they provided was to give extra training to some of our own teachers in a teach-the-teacher model so we could do our own training after they left. We used a combination of city and grant funds (IDEA federal funds) to transport, house and pay the team for their efforts.

During the training, the word respect kept popping up, and it’s an important element in the training. If all parties are respected during an episode that requires physical restraint, the procedure is easier and certainly much safer. The word respect seems to calm people down somehow. Emotions can run high, especially among children who have few resources to manage them. Once the initial incident is defused and the child is returned to the classroom, teachers can work together to try to find out why it happened in the first place. It may be necessary to bring the parents in to see if there’s something in the environment at home that is causing problems. When the whole family is involved, problem solving can proceed more effectively.

Obviously, this is a greatly simplified description of how a school district can approach behavior management programs.

Some resources for finding solutions:

Let me know how your school or district manages behavior.


Grant Name: Ross Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Description:  Giving on a national basis to advance the moral, mental, and physical well-being of children of all races and creeds; to aid and assist in providing for the basic needs of food, shelter, and education of such children by whatever means and methods necessary or advisable; to prevent by medical research or otherwise the mental and physical handicaps of children. Funding also provided for the research of pediatric diseases.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Private School, Faith-based, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00 – $560,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.000 – $15,000.00

Address: 1036 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620

Telephone: 585-473-6006

Email: info@dhrossfoundation.org

Website: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Availability: All States

Transition Planning

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

As special education students reach high school, it becomes time to think about the afterlife—that is, life after high school.

boy writing 2The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that within the IEP in place when the student turns 16, there must include transition service needs. However, it’s never too early to start the process. Factors to be considered are:

Will there be:

  • Continued academic preparation?
  • Development of a viable community experience?
  • Development of vocational and independent living objectives?
  • A functional vocational evaluation (if applicable)?

Guidance is necessary to move from high school to the next stages in life. Steps must be documented and taken to guide and prepare students for college and a career or for independent living. Without goals, students may fall off the radar and flounder. Consider these sobering statistics:

kids testingOne way to begin is to teach students to advocate for themselves as early as possible.

  • Begin by talking with students about what they do well and the extent of their disability. Many students have never been required to articulate the nature of their disability. Likewise, they can’t always talk about skills they have learned and mastered to date.
  • Students may need to practice the words they need to verbalize what they can and cannot do.
  • Evaluate whether students can succeed in a post-secondary academic setting. Not all students are college material, but students need to be able to engage in discussions about college or community college.
  • Plan a visit to your local community college. This resource is uniquely qualified to provide the kind of guidance your students will need to get the conversation started.

Starting at age 14 and continuing until the student is no longer eligible for special education services, the IEP team should:

  • Help the student work through his or her own IEP
  • Take into account the student’s preferences and interests
  • Include developing the student’s post-school goals

See more at: Wrightslaw.com.

For students who are interested in embarking on a career right out of high school, administering an interest inventory might be a way to start. Finding the right job is not easy, even for highly skilled individuals. It’s even more difficult for those who lack adequate training or face special challenges.

For more great ideas on how to start preparing students for effective transition planning:

Grant Name: Technical Assistance and Dissemination to Improve Services and Results for Children With Disabilities

Funded By: Department of Education

Description: The purpose of this priority is to fund three cooperative agreements to establish and operate model demonstration projects that are designed to improve the literacy of adolescents with disabilities in middle and high school grades. For purposes of this priority, the target population includes: Students with disabilities in grades 6 through 12 who score below grade level in reading, or who have identified reading goals and objectives on their individualized education program.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Reading, Special Education

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 5/4/2015

Annual Total Amount: $1,200,000.00

Average Amount: $400,000.00

Address: Education Publications Center (ED Pubs), U.S. Department of Education, PO Box 22207, Alexandria, VA 22304

Telephone: 202-245– 6425

Email: Gregory.Knollman@ed.gov

Website: Department of Education

Availability: All States

Testing for Special Education Students Part 2: Aligning to Common Core State Standards

ABC learningby Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

Last time, I talked about testing accommodations for special needs students and new technologies that can assist at test time. Once IEP accommodations are devised, teachers are wondering how to align lessons and classroom tests to CCSS (Common Core State Standards)? Now that most states have adopted common standards, and we’ve gotten over the shock of needing to line up and adopt them at the micro level, how do we do that? Check out the CCSSI site itself for a look at alignment for students with disabilities.

Despite initial emotional resistance to moving to the new standards, I’ve been able to see that CCSS can actually be a useful tool as we create new lessons for special needs kids. Blended learning environments are available if we plan for them, and they offer additional technology assists for our lesson planning processes. One obstacle seems to be the availability of teacher training to bring technology to life.

This acceptance did not happen overnight, but I didn’t need a twelve-step program to come to acceptance level after all. We all want high standards for all children, they need something to aim for, and the stars are a good target. One could argue that the CCSSI is not the stars, but that’s a subject for another day.

I’ve found the best place to start in the alignment process is to consult my state department of education website for guidance. I use this resource all the time, but it’s fair to note that some state sites are better than others. Here is a link to the California site’s section on special education and CCSSI just to show an example.

They link to symposiums and other helpful events, but there is a tab for “assessment”. There is an organization, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and a California site to show how it all works. SBAC is national but not all states have joined the consortium. Your state department of education will provide similar links to SBAC if they are members. On their site, we can learn about achievement level setting. It seems others have walked this path before, so let’s let our colleagues help us. There is an organized way to migrate to CCSS in special ed classrooms. There are also technology assists for moving to an online testing environment.

In SBAC’s own words,

Achievement level setting, also known as standard setting, is the process used for establishing one or more cut scores on an assessment, making it possible to create categories of performance. Smarter Balanced Governing States are using a three-phase design for achievement level setting, which involves an online panel, an in-person panel, and a vertical articulation committee.” Through these ongoing panels, schools are learning how to adjust their existing classrooms to CCSS and testing for special needs students.

This is where I jump in and decry the level of commercial enterprise at work throughout the CCSSI environment. Or, do I? I no longer have a big problem with companies popping up to make a living with software, products, consortia, symposia or other packages of services to help schools navigate these enormous new challenges. Have I gone to the dark side?

I’m not entirely ready to question whether the public sector (corporations) should be handed the reins for all education related issues, but it’s worth looking at the options. State and federal departments of education are struggling to keep up with new regulations and protocols. I know, they should have thought of this before, but let’s back off a little and let some commercial enterprises in to help them out.

More resources to help sort it all out:

I’m hoping this blog stirs a response from you, makes you mad, or indignant, thrilled, or something. Even if you completely agree with my line of thinking, can you let me know what you think? We’re all trying to answer the question, “How do I align my curriculum to CCSSI”? Moreover, is it worth it?


Grant Name: USGA Alliance Grants

Funded By: National Alliance for Accessible Golf

Description: Grants support organizations which provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to learn and enjoy the game of golf and its inherent values. The Alliance and the USGA share the belief that the game of golf is exceptionally well-suited to allow individuals with disabilities to participate in a recreational or competitive activity with participants who have various types of disabilities as well as those who do not have disabilities. We encourage inclusive programming – opportunities that allow participants with disabilities and participants without disabilities to learn and play the game side by side.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Health/PE

Eligibility: Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $20,000.00

Address: 1733 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

Telephone: 812-320-1126

E-mail: accessolutions@gmail.com

Website: National Alliance for Accessible Golf

Availability: All States

Aging Out

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

It’s the beginning of a new school year, but I’m going to touch on a subject that pertains to the long-range future of our disabled students. End-of-school career planning is something that needs to be addressed well in advance.

hands filing

In every student’s life, the expectation is a graduation ceremony of some kind. In my house, it was a given that we would go to college; thus, we’ve had several graduations in our lifetime. It was a lesson for me when I learned that some families are gratified when their child graduates from the eighth grade. There are parties and celebrations and joy from parents who never expected to see this milestone. They may have lived in poverty or just been part of a family that has never experienced the eighth grade, for whatever reason. They may have come to us from another country where education is not as readily available as it is here.

For children with disabilities, the calendar is different. The law says the school must provide services for children with disabilities through their 21st year. In most states there are transition plan requirements that help parents and students work through a more complex set of decisions as graduation comes near. Many disabled students cannot hope to pass state academic achievement tests. In the beginning of education reform, this was a serious issue as states clung to the graduation requirements for these high stakes tests. As the years have passed, states have developed safety nets and procedures for providing a path to college for many disabled students.

I have been impressed by the way community colleges have stepped up. They are ideally positioned in local areas to provide tutoring and transition classes for students who will not be able to walk across their high school graduation stage. This is working well not only for disabled students, but also for students whose first language is not English.

pile of folders

If you are a parent reading this, and you are wondering how you are going to support your disabled child through the graduation process, be aware there are many services available for you. Locally, your child’s guidance counselor can help with a transition plan. She will know what the law says and be aware of the tests and timetables for graduation for disabled students. If you are early in the process (your child is in the eighth grade or so), you should be working with your school’s special education committee to create IEPs that have an eye for the future.

boy writing 2

I’ve collected some resources for transition planning services.

Transition planning checklist

Wright’s Law – a great resource for understanding the law regarding special education

New York State’s transition planning infrastructure – good resource

PACER – champions for children with disabilities

Toolkit – for preparing a personal assistance plan after graduation

Vocational Rehab facilities (New York State – your state has one too)

Going to College – for students with disabilities

Heath Center – national clearinghouse for services to students with disabilities

Use Google or another search engine to find resources specific to your state, search strings might look like this;

“Services for students with disabilities in xyz (fill in your state) state”

Keep your expectations high for all your students, there are services and programs out there to help all students thrive in our society, you just have to know where to look. The Internet has been an enormous positive factor in helping families cope with the challenges of transitioning out of school. Use the services available.

Let me know how your school or state handles the transition planning process for your disabled students.


Grant Name: Educational Grants

Funded By: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis to advance the moral, mental, and physical well-being of children of all races and creeds; to aid and assist in providing for the basic needs of food, shelter, and education of such children by whatever means and methods necessary or advisable; to prevent by medical research or otherwise the mental and physical handicaps of children.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Private School, Faith Based, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing 

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00 – $560,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $15,000.00

Address: 1036 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620

Telephone: 585-473-6006

E-mail: info@dhrossfoundation.org

Website: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Availability: All States