Are You Out of Compliance in Your SPED Classroom?

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

teacher time

At some time or another, it seems inevitable that you will be out of compliance in your classroom. This happens in especially bad economic times. Cities and towns become incapable of raising tax revenues to cover all costs and everything suffers. The number one reason you might have compliance issues is in maintaining a certain number of students in your care at any given time.

As referrals and approvals come in, administrators must find a suitable placement for a child. Sometimes there’s just no room at the inn, so they assign the child to your classroom until another solution becomes available.

There are some things you can do to try to start solving these problems, at least in your own domain, but first you need to understand the law.

I have a special fondness for Wrightslaw online. It’s a site that has every possible SPED law spelled out and explained in plain English. It also points people to other resources that may help solve problems with staying in compliance of IDEA, Public Law 94-142 laws. It links to advocacy groups, attorneys who specialize in this complex corner of the law, and provides access to advocacy and Special Education Law libraries (to-die-for resources).

I could spend weeks reading all the articles and papers on this site and never truly have a complete understanding of the laws for our special education students. I recommend surveying this site; it has a good search engine if you have specific questions about how to stay in compliance in your classroom.

girl classroomThe numbers of students in your care is pretty basic. All the regulations adhere to a basic premise that we are providing the LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) for special ed. students. There is a legal definition of this concept, but we all know what it means. We need to include SPED students as much as possible in classrooms for all children. Students are no longer shuttled into a separate self-contained room or school and forgotten. There are still self-contained classes, but the rules around placement are very strict and must be followed to the letter.

When I am out of compliance in student count, the first thing I do is look at the class list in its totality. Can I prioritize my class list? This sounds barbaric, but there are always students who may have been in SPED classrooms too long and it is in their best interests to have their IEPs changed with parent input. Graduating (phasing) a student out of SPED services is hard to do, so be prepared for a fight. People (parents) become happy with extra care situations for their children. I always work with district SPED officials and my school principal. I can be a squeaky wheel, and if I keep at it, students can be phased out of my classrooms. Call IEP meetings and review each situation thoroughly to try to keep your room in compliance.

In a resource room, you cannot exceed five students per instructor. There are also rules for paraprofessionals; can a child be assigned a personal aide (through the IEP and team meeting process)? We are all aware of situations when keeping it to five students is just not feasible and the student count in resource rooms swells to try to absorb the overflow. There can be acceptable temporary arrangements. Self-contained classrooms are generally eight students with a full time teacher and one paraprofessional.

You are probably questioning my numbers. Actually, so am I. As I tried to research this issue, I came across different guidelines in different states. The best description of these rules can be found on Wrightslaw:

Is There a Legal Definition of Self Contained Classroom?

There is no legal definition of “self-contained classroom” in the federal statute.

It is suggested that you defer to your state special education offices for guidance.

We all know a classroom that is out of compliance. We know what it looks like, how it’s not functioning and that we should do something about it when we can.

Some resources to help us all stay up to date:

NCLB No Child Left Behind

IDEA 2004 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

NASET – National Association of Special Ed Teachers

Teachervision – practical everyday things to use in your classroom.

Special Education Guide

Let us know if you have a class out of compliance and the plans you are developing to fix it.

Grant Name: Family Service Community Grants

Funded By: Autism Speaks

Description: Autism Speaks seeks to directly support the innovative work of autism service providers in local communities across the United States. The focus of our Family Services Community Grants is three-fold: to promote autism services that enhance the lives of those affected by autism; to expand the capacity to effectively serve this growing community; and to enhance the field of service providers.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Library, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 3/25/2015

Annual Total Amount: $5,000.00 – $25,000.00

Telephone: 917-475-5059


Website: Autism Speaks

Availability: All States


Blended Learning in Special Education

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

child teacher computer

Blended Learning Environments – Using technology and traditional SPED classroom instruction to facilitate learning.

There’s a buzzword that’s been gaining momentum in all education spheres these days: blended learning. Basically, (don’t wince—this is very basic) it is adding technology to existing classroom lessons to increase motivation and engagement in learning. It can include video, podcasts, streaming content from providers, interactive exercises, asynchronous and, increasingly, synchronous lessons. Grab one of those iPad labs the district is handing out; don’t be left out in the techie cold.

With blended learning, the student is the star with the teacher on hand for support. Some part of the lesson delivery is online using a learning management system (LMS) that includes a database to keep track of student assessment, attendance and achievement gains (the LMS does the heavy lifting). Assessment is just one way technology will facilitate student learning.

The shift to blended learning from a traditional special ed. classroom or resource room model should not be difficult. Traditional lesson planning strategies will overlap blended learning with a new way of looking at things. The best way to describe blended learning for a teacher who would like to understand the model might be to look at a blended learning lesson plan template. Can you select the lesson plan steps that will stay the same as your current plans?

ABC learningLesson Plan Template for Blended Learning Environments

  1. Alignment with Common Core State Standards (CCSS):
    Standards-based instruction for special ed. students remains number one; objectives must be aligned to the standards you have selected in your timeline and skills rollout.
  2. Objectives:
    In a special ed. model, you will be prepared to plan formultiple  Each student works toward his own goals. Students move continually forward, the pace is driven by assessment results that are part of the learning management system.
  3. Data Analysis:
    The guiding light in instruction is the careful analysis of the data provided by the LMS and your own formative assessments.
  4. Scheduling (blocking):

This is one of the challenges teachers face; the schedule and rollout of instruction for any standard will look very different at the elementary level from instruction in high school. In a SPED environment there are no heterogeneous groups, but lessons remain flexible so individuals can step out and move quickly through skills they grasp, while others will stay and repeat certain skills until mastery is achieved. You can arrange the class into somewhat flexible groups.

  1. Setting:
    Blended learning provides multiple environments to reassure students and accommodate for different learning styles. One environment for learning will be online and technology based. You may have a small group with several learning environments: computer labs, tablet labs, teacher led lessons, special tutoring and study carrel assignments. All of these can be modified for a resource room.
  2. Activities:
    You can use existing successful lesson plans, they can still access their thumb drives with the best lessons from past years. You will become expert in finding the lessons and activities that reach into the depths of your special students’ learning. Hands-on project-based learning can continue.
  3. Timing:
    Within blocks and scheduling schemas, you may have different groups working through different skill sets at the same time. You can make learning one-on-one by adjusting students’ time in the various microenvironments according to different needs.
  4. Assessment and Testing:
    Assessments are determined in the planning stage as markers to guide further learning. The goal for the teacher is to measure when students have met their objectives within a given standard.
  5. Organization:
    There are many lesson plan templates that show how existing teaching styles can be honed and fine-tuned for the new special ed. blended learning model. Some resources include:

Your classroom may need to be rearranged to suit the needs of the learners. The school network specialist will need to keep the internet connection open. Your district may install its own learning management system through which students can access your classroom assignments; it will be useful for SPED classrooms too. This developing trend shows promise for security conscious administrators.

teacher little girl

A new model for learning always suffers growing pains. There will be new ideas coming online all the time, but the promise of raising special ed. student achievement through blended learning is exciting. It pulls together all the effective strategies that educators have developed to manage standards-based instruction on a large scale, right down to the individual and his learning needs.

Other resources:

Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Description: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation supports innovative projects that help youth with disabilities develop the leadership and employment skills they need to succeed, particularly for careers in science, technology and the environment. MEAF will also consider projects to create tools that help break down barriers to employment and increase job opportunities for young people with disabilities entering the workforce, including returning veterans with disabilities.

Program Areas: Disabilities, General Education, Professional Development, Science/Environmental, Special Education, Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 6/1/2015

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 1560 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 1150, Arlington, VA 22209-2463

Telephone: 703-276-8240

Website: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Availability: All States



Budgets and IEP Team Activities

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

This time of year, we are creating Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams and preparing for annual meetings for our kids. The subject of IEP team creation has come up in our district. An administrator noticed that budgets for last year had to be increased for SPED because of a very liberal IEP team that wrote expensive equipment into their program. A challenge for all districts: how do you find a balance between providing services and maintaining budgets? There are some promising new software solutions for some of the more common learning disabilities, but they are expensive and untried. Is it worth the investment? Can we find more cost effective solutions for similar problems?

Daily Organizer

The quick answer is, “Of course it’s worth the investment; we shouldn’t skimp on our kids.” The real answer is more complicated and deserves study and review.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) describes the IEP team as including:

  • The parents of the child
  • Not less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment)
  • Not less than one special education teacher of the child, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of the child
  • representative of the public agency who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities, knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and knowledgeable about the available resources of the public agency
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results
  • Other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate (invited at the discretion of the parent or the agency)
  • The child with a disability (when appropriate)

I’d like to focus on the individual who can “interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results.” Our superintendent has asked if this person is properly trained to deliver this service. He is supportive of district teams in general, but his responsibility is to stay within budget. The evaluation of services is an ongoing job, and it can’t be delegated to just one person, especially in large districts. You may have an “evaluation specialist” that attends your meetings, and you would hope that person has thoroughly evaluated new programs and equipment, but there aren’t always enough hours in the day.

Since 94-142 laws and their amendments have been written, the costs for special education services have soared. Providing programs and equipment to support the least restrictive environment language in the federal law has created a huge business for publishers and software companies. Are we too eager to jump on bandwagons without study?

If you’ve ever attended a sales meeting for large publishing company sales reps to come and show their wares, you know how tempting this is. The presentations are slick, and the statistics they throw around make it sound like their products are the only solutions for some of the more challenging disabilities and behaviors we see that cause referrals for SPED services at the classroom teacher’s level.

This subject deserves careful attention, and a single blog will not cover it adequately. I’ve collected some resources for you to review if this blog opens the dialogue for your teams.

Tell us if your district has a plan in place for reviewing SPED budgets and maintaining great educational services.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Safeway Foundation

Description: The Safeway Foundation supports nonprofit organizations whose mission is aligned with our four priority areas: Hunger Relief, Education, Health and Human Services, and Assisting People with Disabilities.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $2,500.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 5918 Stoneridge Mall Road Pleasanton, CA 94588


Website: Safeway Foundation

Availability: All States