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

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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

504 Plans

I had a fight with myself over this article. Should I write about 504 plans? They are really outside the special education arena. As long as I begin this article with a very specific statement about this, I think we’ll be fine. And I like fighting with myself—I always win.

504 plans are for students who need support in the regular classroom without the need for an IEP. With a little applied assistance in one or two places, some students will flourish outside of the special education system.

ABC learningTaken directly from Greatschools via a Google search for 504 Plans: 

“Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon disability. Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires meeting the needs of students with disabilities as adequately as meeting the needs of the non-disabled.”

A 504 plan specifically outlines how to meet a child’s needs. There are accommodations, modifications and other services similar to assignments in an IEP. This removes barriers to learning. 

That is the official purpose of 504. The reality is more complex. If an appropriately written 504 plan is in place for students with mild difficulties, a SPED referral will not need to follow. We are all interested in reducing expensive SPED referrals, and a 504 gives us a way to do that while providing students some help in the classroom.

We can look at preparing a student’s 504 as a pre-referral strategy. RTI (Response to Intervention) is a formal approach to providing targeted help in the classroom for students who need it. Once a student is identified as needing extra help, intervention strategies are developed to target that need and to keep detailed records of the interventions.

How does a 504 emerge as a solution to a problem? The school provides an evaluation to decide if a child’s disability substantially limits his or her ability to learn and participate in the classroom. Either the parent or the school can initiate this evaluation. Parents must be notified if the school orders the evaluation, and their consent must be received. 

An evaluation is ordered and a plan is drafted. A 504 plan should include the following elements to meet a child’s individual needs:

  • Specific accommodations, supports or services
  • Names of the school professionals that provide each service
  • Name of the person(s) responsible for implementing the 504

A 504 is less detailed than an IEP. It can include special instruction in the regular classroom. It can also provide related services such as speech, occupational therapy or counseling.

A team (committee) is assembled to draft the 504, members might include:

  • The classroom teacher(s)
  • A special education teacher
  • The school principal
  • Parent(s)

Sometimes the child is invited depending on their age and maturity.

A plan is developed and signed by the relevant parties. The committee should reevaluate the plan every year. In some districts, the 504 will be accompanied by a detailed RTI curriculum plan. This depends on district adoption of the RTI program. It’s becoming more accepted as a series of strategies to handle behavior problems, one of the main reasons for 504 referrals. It’s useful to know that some simple classroom and testing accommodations may be all that’s needed to meet a student’s needs.

To read more about 504 plans and how they fit into the special education management system in your school or district, check out these resources.

Let me know how you’re doing, and how you’re solving the everyday issues that arise in your classroom.


Grant Opportunity

Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Finish Line Youth Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis in areas of company operations, supporting organizations involved with athletics and youth development. Special emphasis is directed toward programs designed to promote active lifestyles and team building skills; and camps designed to promote sports and active lifestyles, and serve disadvantaged and special needs kids.

Program Areas: After-School, Disabilities, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $200,000.00 – $500,000.00

Average Amount:  $1,000.00 – $50,000.00

Address: 3308 North Mitthoeffer Road, Indianapolis, IN 46235-2332

Telephone: 317-899-1022 x6741

Email: Youthfoundation@finishline.com

Website: Finish Line Youth Foundation

Availability: All States

Is Your Classroom Paraprofessional a Positive Factor in Your Class?

Regulations regarding the assignment of paraprofessionals (paras) in special education classrooms depend on many factors. There are guidelines available, but much depends on your location (state) and the way you present your needs to your district administrators.

Group Of Elementary Age Children In Art Class With TeacherIf you really want to have a paraprofessional in your classroom, you will need to work with district SPED coordinators to define your needs and rationale. Some paras provide personal assistance as required by language in an IEP, usually for physically disabled students who need support with day-to-day activities. Acquiring a general classroom para, if not explicitly required by your state, is still challenging despite legal requirements. Your IEP process provides help; it is a legal document. 

Sometimes it’s a “be careful what you wish for” proposition, though. I know a young special education teacher who has been assigned two SPED paras in her class; one is a personal aide. They are both capable people, but she wonders how helpful the help is when she has to spend so much of her day training them to provide services. One of her aides is an older woman who has firm opinions about what she should be doing on a daily basis. She’s been an aide for a long time and is potentially a godsend, but first the generation gap needs to be addressed. She talks endlessly about her favorite teacher from the past, Ms. XYZ, and how she would have done things. 

My advice is to be upfront and completely transparent about your needs. Right away, make sure aides understand who is in charge in the classroom. You can become accustomed to eye rolling, loud sighs and other body language from disapproving aides if these issues aren’t addressed soon and often. Prepare evaluation checklists, and review them weekly. If the aide isn’t performing and filling your needs, let them know and share your concerns with your principal and district officials. If the aide becomes a problem, create a paper trail with dates and times. In serious situations, use the camera on your phone. If a personal aide is responsible for toileting and the child comes back from the bathroom with dirty hands every day, take a picture and share it with the aide—not as a hammer and a threat, but to illustrate your point. A picture is worth…

Math Teacher Writing on Chalk BoardThere are some wonderful training manuals available for paraprofessionals. Adopt one, and then provide it as a gift to a new aide. Require that she read it and adopt it as the official guide. I used to spend lunchtime with aides, especially in the beginning of the year, going over the material in the guide we used. Check with your district coordinator; she may have a library for teachers with materials that can be helpful. Your library media specialist can help you review materials and choose items for your own classroom library.

One of your best allies (hopefully) are the parents. Parents can be very vocal if they are not happy with an aide assigned to their child. If you haven’t convinced administrators that you have a problem, bring in the parents. Be careful here: you aren’t recruiting help. Be sure the parent shares all of your concerns already to prepare a unified front.

The world of paraprofessional training has changed drastically over the years. I remember when an aide would be assigned to my classroom, and what I saw was a mom or student who wanted a part-time job on the side. Now, paraprofessionals are well-trained, well-educated and devoted professionals who are proud of their calling.

In an ideal classroom environment, your aides are your trusted companions and often become friends. The aides, if you have more than one, hopefully work well together and don’t bump into each other’s responsibilities. Their roles are well defined. This isn’t an impossible scenario. It takes time and a consistent approach, finding your rhythm day by day.

Some resources for managing paraprofessionals:

Let me know how you’re doing.


Grant Name: Educational Grants

Funded By: The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Description: Giving on a national basis to support museums, cultural and performing arts programs; schools, hospitals, educational and skills training programs, programs for youth, seniors, and the handicapped; environmental and wildlife protection activities; and other community-based organizations and their programs. Organizations seeking support from the Foundation may submit a letter of request, not exceeding three pages in length, which includes a brief description of the purpose of the organization, and a brief outline of the program or project for which funding is sought.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Disabilities, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

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

Proposal Deadline:  5/10/2015

Annual Total Amount: $2,800,000.00 – $4,000,000.00

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

Address: 2233 Wisconsin Avenue N.W., Suite 414, Washington, DC 20007

Telephone: 202-337-3300

Email: info@mvdreyfusfoundation.org

Website: Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc

Availability:  All States

SPED Teacher Burnout: Is it Happening to You?

Teaching can be a lonely job. That sounds counter-intuitive, as others surround you all day. For the most part, though, you’re in your classroom alone as ruler of the roost. If you’re lucky, you may have an aide, but your aide may not be the helper you need. Managing aides can be a full-time job itself (I’ll cover that issue in another article). We don’t like to talk about burnout for fear that it makes us appear out of control.

male teacher helpAfter some months in the classroom with a class load that can exceed what the law recommends, you start to feel frustrated. You’ve reported that you are out of compliance with your numbers, but no one seems to listen. Your administrators acknowledge your problem, but “budgets,” or “it’s only temporary,” are the responses you get to repeated alarms.

You stay late every night, reviewing student work or staying abreast of IEPs and reports from team meetings. You are a dedicated professional, but there’s a nagging feeling that you’re not happy in your job. Maybe it is not so nagging—maybe it’s shrieking.

Every teacher feels frustrated from time to time. Special Ed teachers are often responsible for medical issues with their students too. This is a huge responsibility. The students we see in our classrooms seem to have more and more complex issues as the years go by. This is not your imagination; it’s true. As medical science becomes more sophisticated, more premature children are saved at birth to be placed in public school settings with myriads of health problems. You love your kids, and you know the kids are not the problem; it’s always the grownups, and you can also sometimes point the finger at yourself.

These are the first signs of burnout: nagging emotions and feelings, loss of sleep, nervous tension, snapping at family members or teachers and administrators in your school. You’ve tried to network within your school to muster up some support, but other teachers have their own issues to sort out.

Fortunately, there’s help at hand. If your symptoms have grown to include a major problem like drug or alcohol abuse, your district probably has counseling available. Often called “employee assistance programs,” they can help to get you going in the right direction. Check out your health insurance policy; it will have other private options for mental health care. If your problems have become physical (stress takes a terrible toll on your body) get help now. You are not alone.

The first step is to sit down with your building principal and let her know you’re experiencing some stress-related health issues; can she suggest some ways to fight off burnout? She’s probably been there, so she will know what you’re talking about. Seek out other SPED teachers; they will be supportive and understand the unique challenges you face.

The Internet has become a rich source of support for many teachers. There are forums where you can anonymously share your stories and receive practical advice from teachers in your field. Some resources

I like:

Although this article is part of a blog series, I’d be happy to hear from you and even share some stories and practical tips for support. I’m a veteran, and I’m sure there is nothing you can say that could shock or offend. Leave a comment below, I’ll respond and we can start a dialogue. We are all better when we work together. 

Let me know how you’re doing.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Patterson Foundation

Description: The foundation provides resources to programs and to nonprofit organizations in the areas of oral health, animal health, and occupational and physical rehabilitation. Funds are granted for: Health and Human Services programs related to the focus areas that benefit economically disadvantaged people or youth with special needs; and Education as it relates to the focus areas, especially programs that increase the number of underrepresented people in the dental, veterinary, occupational health and physical health fields.

Program Areas: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Eligibility: At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $5,000.00 – $75,000.00

Average Amount: $500,000.00 – $800,000.00

Address: 1031 Mendota Heights Road, St. Paul, MN 55120-1419

Telephone: 651-686-1929

Email: information@pattersonfoundation.net

Website: Patterson Foundation

Availability: All States

Paraprofessionals in the SPED Classroom

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

pile of folders

Sometimes, an Ed Plan (IEP, Individual Education Plan) contains a mandate for a paraprofessional to accompany a child throughout the day (one-to-one aide). In Massachusetts the law states:

“Substantially separate programs operated by public schools shall limit class sizes to nine students with one teacher and one paraprofessional.”

So, there may be several paraprofessionals in a substantially separate classroom, the classroom paraprofessional and paraprofessionals assigned to a child whose Ed Plan requires it. The law is huge and complex, and some flexibility is built in to accommodate larger class sizes.

Classroom paraprofessionals in special education have historically been underpaid and hard to find. NCLB regulations have bolstered the federal 94-142 law by tightening regulations for paraprofessional training. A good discussion of these requirements would take another blog or two, but you can read more about this here. If you are a parent, and you are trying to secure a one-to-one-paraprofessional for your special education child, it’s often a case of be careful what you wish for. A good paraprofessional is a treasure for a child, her family, and a teacher. A bad one ……?

For a teacher, managing a classroom is sometimes the most difficult part of the job. Scheduling, behavior management, and routine activities must be carefully orchestrated. SPED children in particular, need a set routine. The good news is a one-to-one paraprofessional may work with other children in the classroom. If there is a group activity, the paraprofessional does not need to restrict her assistance to the one child in her care; she may pitch in and help the teacher with the group.

Many teachers have developed good rapport and excellent management protocols for paraprofessionals in their classroom. I have some resources for classroom management with paraprofessionals here:

The main goal that guides hiring decisions for paraprofessionals is staying within the intent of the IEP. Paraprofessionals come and go with frequency, and a parent may change her mind about the need for a paraprofessional if the classroom resources are sufficient to support her child without one. A well-meaning and well educated parent can be an asset for a classroom teacher. She can also throw a monkey wrench into a teacher’s well-crafted plans. Managing parents can be a full time job too.

I’m making this all sound impossible to orchestrate. “Regular” classroom teaching is difficult; special education management is an especially delicate balancing act because of legal realities. Experience will be the best teacher if you are patient. Learn about the law and IEP’s. If you are deft, you can arrange things so the paraprofessionals in the classroom are trained to pick up all the mundane duties leaving you with the fun part; the art of teaching.

If you find you have a difficult situation brewing with a paraprofessional, make sure your principal and district special ed coordinator are in the loop. Document every transgression, no matter how slight. Sit down with your aides often; evaluate them according to the rules in your district and state. Removing a paraprofessional is difficult, but if a principal is in agreement with your need to adjust your personnel situation, it will be easier to transfer one out. Also, your relationship with parents can help you guide your paraprofessional assignments through the IEP process.

Add to our list of resources, help guide this blog, and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.


Grant Name: IWP Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: Innovating Worthy Projects Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis. The Foundation makes grants to organizations dedicated to serving developing innovative programs, disseminating ideas, or providing direct care or services for children with special needs, acute illnesses or chronic disabilities.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Early Childhood, Special Education

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 12/31/2014

Annual Total Amount: $100,000.00 – $200,000.00

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

Address: 4045 Sheridan Avenue, Ste. 296, Miami Beach, FL 33140

Telephone: 305-861-5352

E-mail: info@iwpf.org

Website: Innovating Worthy Projects Foundation

Availability: All States

The Five Most Common Reasons for SPED Referral

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

hands filing

Over the years, the labels we use to describe special education students have changed. When I was in Special Education 101 (I’m really dating myself), we used to call developmentally disabled children retarded. Even worse, we split the kids into Mild, Moderate, and Severe categories. This was happening at the same time as “mainstreaming”. We understood that the least restrictive environment for all children was the way to go, but we muddied the issue by splitting kids into groups.

To some extent, we still do that. It’s important to be able find language to describe our children. We can’t provide special assistance if we can’t inform people about why it’s needed.

We’ve found there are five types of learning problems that students have that cause us to take a second look and refer them for special education assessment.

  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism
  • Disorders of Hearing, Sight and Physical Disability
  • Emotional Disturbance

I am guessing at the order, there are probably numbers to tell us which of these is the most common, but I don’t have them handy. It really doesn’t matter; these areas of concern have created a bureaucracy of support for special education that is costly and complex. The bureaucracy has developed because of Public Law 94-142, the legislation mandating the least restrictive environment for educational services.

Today, most disabled students can be helped in resource rooms, or classrooms that pull students out for a period during the day for special education. There are however, substantially separate classrooms for students with severe problems. These are the students who have a one on one aide that help them with toileting, physical therapy, and other services we must provide by law.

School Committees all over the country bemoan the cost of these provisions, but at the end of the day, it’s an investment in our future. All students need the best we can give, regardless of cost.

Another part of the law is the requirement that parents be part of the team that outlines the type and duration of any services their children will receive. Schools may have different names for the teams, but it’s usually called the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team. When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 2004, there were changes regarding IEP team members. Parents must be included, but there are others invited to team meetings including the classroom teacher, district administrators and others who are charged with providing services. Meetings occur two times each year, and amendments are made to treatment plans (individual education plans). For instance, parents can request that their children have special equipment. A tool called “Kurzweill” is commonly requested. This software reads aloud for the student and assists struggling readers. Students may also have readers during testing.

I’ve talked a lot about behaviors in classrooms and the costs we incur in our efforts to help at risk students. We can’t forget about the students with the most serious disabilities. Even though we may have substantially separate classrooms for some, this does not mean marginalization. In modern schools, every attempt is made to pull these children into everyday activities in the community at large.

Do you have questions for me? My readers answer more questions than they pose, but I welcome your involvement in this blog.


Grant Name: Serves Grants

Funded By: United States Tennis Association (USTA)

Description: Awarded to nonprofit organizations that support efforts in tennis and education to help disadvantaged, at-risk youth and people with disabilities. To qualify for a USTA Serves Grant, your organization must: Provide tennis programs for underserved youth, ages 5-18, with an educational* component OR Provide tennis programs for people with disabilities (all ages) with a life skills component for Adaptive Tennis programs.

Program Areas: Public School, Private School, Other

Eligibility: Disabilities, Health/PE

Proposal Deadline: 10/18/2014

Address: 70 West Red Oak Lane White Plains, NY 10604

Telephone: 914-696-7175

E-mail: materasso@usta.com

Website: United States Tennis Association

Availability: All States