Parent Centers: A resource for training and assistance for families of children with disabilities


          It’s back-to-school time and this posting provides information on federally funded Parent Centers that provide training and assistance to families of children with disabilities. My thanks to my long time friend Barbara Buswell, the Director of Colorado’s PEAK Parent Center, for providing this information regarding services provided by Parent Centers in general and the PEAK Parent Center specifically. Among the many valuable services that the PEAK Parent Center provides is its Annual Conference for Inclusive Education.

     The U. S. Department of Education provides federally funded Parent Centers in each state to provide training and assistance to families of children with disabilities in their states.  Every state has at least one Parent Center, and states with large populations may have more. 

     Parent Centers serve families of children ages birth to age 26 with all disability labels – physical, learning, cognitive, behavioral, language, emotional etc.  Parent Centers provide a variety of services including workshops, one-on-one support and assistance, websites, and publications.  The majority of Parent Center staff and Boards are themselves parents of children with disabilities so in addition to their knowledge, they are able to bring personal experience when assisting families.  Parent Centers help families obtain appropriate education and services for their children with special needs and work to improve education results for all children.  They connect families with community resources,  train on a variety of topics (including special education, access to general education curriculum, communication with professionals, accommodations and modifactions, etc.), and help families work to resolve problems with schools and other agencies.  Parent Centers link families with resources and best practice information in special and general education. To find the Parent Center in your state go to the Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers’ website.

    PEAK Parent Center is Colorado’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). PEAK is a statewide organization for and by parents of children with disabilities reaching out to assist families and professionals. 

PEAK PTI Services

* Information about the special education process and parents’ rights

* Up-to-date disability information

* SPEAKout newsletter

* Parent Advisors who are available to provide information and resources in English and Spanish, assist families with problem-solving strategies, and direct callers to other community resources by telephone, email to, or in person by appointment

* Inclusion resources that show how students can be successfully included in general education classrooms

* Referral to medical, educational, community services, and support groups

* Annual statewide conference on Inclusive Education to be held February 11-13, 2010

* Bookstore with current publications to assist families and schools like our “IEP Toolkit”

     In conclusion, Parent Training Centers are a valuable resource for families of children with disabilities. Again, to find the Parent Center in your state go to Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers’ website.


Section 504, School Field Trips, and Students with Disabilities

  In a previous post, Opening the School Door to Section 504, I discussed the Section 504 and ADA requirements to provide services to children with disabilities. If you are not familiar with how section 504 applies to public elementary and secondary schools, you might check out that article before continuing with this article.

 Sub part D of the Section 504 regulations prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities. This means that public schools must provide services to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the schools meet the needs of students without disabilities. Thus, Section 504 focuses on ensuring equal access for students with disabilities to the program offered by the public school. Under 34 CFR 104.34 of the 504 regulations, equal access includes serving students with disabilities in settings (academic and nonacademic) with students without disabilities. Equal access to the school program includes equal access to filed trips.

Unfortunately, sometimes schools overlook including students with disabilities in field trips or assume that because the student has a disability,  the student is automatically excluded from participating. That is not the case. In fact, Section 504 requires that the school district presume that a student with a disability will participate in a field trip. If  the school believes the student should be excluded from the field trip, it must make that determination on an individual basis. Moreover, the school district has the burden of demonstrating that the student should not participate. (Montebello (CA) Unified School District, 20 IDELR 388 (OCR 1993).

In order to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the school program, Section 504 requires that schools provide accommodations. So, if a student with a disability needed an accommodation or related aids and services to participate in the field trip, those services must be provided.

For example, in Quaker Valley (PA) Sch. Dist., 39 IDELR 235 (OCR 1986), a girl with a neurodegenerative disorder that affected her motor, sensory, perceptual, and language functioning was denied the opportunity to go on field trips and participate in a swimming program. Due to “safety concerns”, the school principal had unilaterally made the decision to exclude her from six field trips with her third grade class, including a trip to a television station. She was the only student excluded from the field trips. In school the girl was provided with accommodations, such as an escort to assist her when walking and holding her hand. But no consideration was given to providing similar accommodations on the field trips or in the swimming program. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) determined that the “safety” considerations were not justified and that the girl should have been provided with accommodations to ensure her participation in the field trips and the swimming program. Additionally, OCR determined the school district violated Section 504 because it did not notify the girl’s parents of the upcoming field trips, while the other children’s’ parents were notified.

On the other hand, OCR has found that there are times when schools, after individual consideration, may exclude a student from a field trip if the student’s participation presents an unacceptable risk to the student’s health or safety. But the school must be able to justify that determination. In North Hunterdon (MD) Pub. Sch. Sys., 25 IDELR 165 (OCR 1996), OCR determined that the school district was justified in excluding a student from a field trip when the student had several seizures on the same day as the field trip.

Finally, schools cannot require that parents of students with disabilities accompany their children on field trips, if parents of students without disabilities are not required to accompany their children. In Rim of the World (CA) Unified Sch. Dist., 38 IDELR 101 (OCR 2002), a student’s Braille assistant was told that the student could not participate in a field trip unless accompanied by a family member. This violated Section 504, because the parents of students without disabilities were not asked to accompany their children.

Field trips are a very important part of the school experience. Section 504 requires that schools presume students with disabilities will participate in field trips along side children without disabilities. If there are concerns that a student’s participation may be unsafe or a risk, the school should consider providing accommodations and related services to support the student’s participation. If the school still believes the student’s participation to be unsafe, the decision to exclude the student must be made on an individual basis and the school district has the burden of demonstrating that the student should not participate.

Second Edition of The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law Now Available

  Readers, at the end of May I posted that the Second Edition of my book The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law was available for preorder. The book is here and can be ordered now.


  Like the previous book, the second edition contains information about obtaining a free appropriate public education, IEPs, discipline, dispute resolution, extended school year, early childhood services, and 504 plans. Additionally, the new second edition has been updated to include the most recent changes in federal law including:

 • the IDEA requirements for services plans for children placed in private schools
 • how to file complaints with State Education Agencies for violations of the IDEA including obtaining compensatory services
 • timelines for resolving disputes under the IDEA and how to use “mediation” and the new “resolution process”
 • the evaluation process and response-to-intervention (RTI)

  The second edition of The Everyday Guide is priced at $24.95. Discounted prices are available for bulk orders. If you are interested you may order it now.


The Second Edition of The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law available for preorder

Readers as you may be aware, this blog features links for those interested in purchasing my book The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law. I have not, however, directly promoted the book in my posts. I’m going to break with that tradition because I want you to know that the first edition of the book has sold out, but that the second edition of The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law will arrive by the end of June, but can be preordered now. Like the previous book, the second edition contains information about obtaining a free appropriate public education, IEPs, discipline, dispute resolution, extended school year, early childhood services, and 504 plans. Additionally, the new second edition has been updated to include the most recent changes in federal law including:

• the IDEA requirements for services plans for children placed in private schools
• how to file complaints with State Education Agencies for violations of the IDEA including obtaining compensatory services
• timelines for resolving disputes under the IDEA and how to use “mediation” and the new “resolution process”
• the evaluation process and response-to-intervention (RTI)

Again, if you are interested you can preorder the second edition of The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law now.

That’s it for the commercial. My next post will again feature practical comments and information on special education, early intervention, and disability law.

AT is Where it’s At: Obtaining Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities

  Sometimes things worked out like they were supposed to and Sara was pleased. She had expected to have a fight on her hands as she went into Gracie’s individualized educational program (IEP) meeting. Gracie was six and because of multiple disabilities she wasn’t able to talk. But just because Gracie didn’t talk didn’t mean she couldn’t communicate. Gracie communicated by using a picture board. The picture board had been developed by a speech therapist who worked with Gracie when she was three and in preschool. The picture board had worked fairly well, but Gracie was now finishing first grade. Gracie’s skills had grown and the tasks she needed to perform had become more complex as she advanced in school. Sara wanted the school to look into providing a more sophisticated communication system for Gracie as she entered second grade. Sara was concerned the school staff would be reluctant to explore what might be a more costly communication system.

 But, to Sara’s surprise, the IEP team shared her concerns and recommended a complete evaluation of Gracie’s assistive technology (AT) needs, including assessing her communication system. The AT assessment was to be completed before the end of this school year and the team would meet again to review the results of the evaluation and plan services accordingly. As always, Sara still worried that things might not turn out as she hoped, but she knew that getting a good evaluation was the first step in getting appropriate services for Gracie. For right now she was confident the school was doing its best for Gracie.  

The IDEA and Assistive Technology 

  Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) schools are required to provide assistive technology services for children with disabilities. Assistive technology, or AT, helps individuals with disabilities do more things for themselves. Assistive technology devices can help a child perform tasks that the child would not otherwise be able to perform because the child has impairments. As in Gracie’s case, her picture board helps her communicate more independently even though she is unable to speak. A more sophisticated alternative augmentative communication system might help her to communicate and learn even more independently. The following are questions and answers about obtaining AT for children with disabilities. 

1.     What is assistive technology?

Under the IDEA, AT devices are items and pieces of equipment that increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of children with disabilities. AT services are broadly defined as any service that directly assists a child in the selection, acquisition, or use of an AT device. 

2.     What are examples of assistive technology?

Assistive technology can be anything that helps a child function more independently. It includes things such as pencil grips, reaching devices, adapted toys, tape recorders, calculators, standing boards, environmental control systems, adapted keyboards, modified desks and chairs, computers, computer software that provides screen reading, text reading, and screen magnification, and alternative augmentative communication systems. 

  Specific disability related AT examples include:

● providing a modified key board with enlarged keys for a child with limited fine motor skills;

● providing a modified desk or computer table to accommodate a student in a wheelchair;

● providing computer software that reads aloud the screen or magnifies the screen for students with visual impairments;

● providing software that reads aloud the text for students with learning disabilities that affect their reading skills;

● providing personal digital assistants (PDA) to assist in note taking and organizing for students with disabilities that affect time management, note taking, and short term memory;

● providing reaching devices to help a student get books from a book shelf;

● providing audio books for a student with a vision impairment or other disability that affects reading skills; and

● providing a device that amplifies speech for a student with a hearing impairment.   

3.     What about cochlear implants and other devices that are surgically implanted, are these devices considered AT?

  No, in 2004 the IDEA was amended to clarify that devices that are implanted in children surgically, such as cochlear implants for children with hearing impairments, are not AT devices that schools must provide.  

4.     Is AT always expensive?

  No, AT devices range from inexpensive, low tech, items such as pencil grips, clip boards, audio books, and tape recorders, to more costly, higher tech devices such as computers and speech synthesizers. AT can be purchased, or it can be homemade. For example, in the film The Right Stuff, because Chuck Yeager has broken ribs he uses a sawed off broom stick to help him close the hatch to his plane before flying off and breaking the sound barrier. Homemade AT. 

5.     Who pays for the AT that a child needs?

If the student needs the AT in order to receive an appropriate education, then the AT should be written into the IEP and the public school system must make sure the AT is provided at no cost to the child’s parents.  

6.     What’s the first step in obtaining AT?

A good evaluation is the key to obtaining any service for a child with a disability. AT is no exception. Evaluating a child’s needs, including doing a functional evaluation in the child’s customary environment, is included as an AT service. As in Gracie’s situation, the IEP team has agreed that Gracie needs an AT evaluation. Once the evaluation is completed the IEP team will meet to design a program to provide the AT that Gracie needs to receive an appropriate education. 

7.     Are there specific requirements regarding AT in the IEP process?

Under the IDEA, AT is a “special factor” to be considered in the IEP process. This means that the IEP team must specifically consider whether a student with disabilities needs assistive technology. If the IEP team believes the student may need AT, then the team should recommend the student’s AT needs be further evaluated. If the IEP team then recommends that a student needs an AT device, that recommendation must be specifically written into the IEP. The IEP must also include the projected date when the AT service or device will be provided, and the duration of time, where, and how often will be provided.  

8.     What if the school provides AT, like a lap top computer, can a child use it at home as well?

The IEP team determines whether the child needs to use the AT device at home in order to receive an appropriate public education. If the IEP team recommends home use, then the child must be allowed to take the AT home. 9.     What happens if the child outgrows the device or it is damaged at school?The IDEA includes as an AT service maintaining, repairing, or replacing the AT device. So, if it is damaged through normal use, or requires future modification, the school must make sure that the repair or replacement is at no cost to the parent.  

10. Some of these devices, like alternative augmentative communication systems, seem complicated. What if the student or the student’s family doesn’t know how to use it?

 Also included as AT services are training and technical assistance in using the AT device for the student. If necessary, the student’s family and professionals such as educators, rehabilitation personnel, and employers may also receive training and technical assistance to learn how to use the AT device.  

11. Where can I get more information about AT?

There is a National Assistive Technology Assistance Partnership that has links to projects in every state that provide information and assistance in obtaining assistive technology.

  Assistive technology helps children with disabilities do more things for themselves and learn in inclusive settings. Parents and educators should make sure that IEP teams explore how assistive technology can help children with disabilities receive a free appropriate education.         

Getting the Most Out of the Least Restrictive Environment

  Brenda tossed her parent folder on to the kitchen table and then slid into the sofa, pleased but exhausted. She had just returned from “Back to School Night” at her sons’ middle school. This was the first year that Jeremy, her 11 year old, was attending his neighborhood school. Jeremy had autism and had not attended elementary school with his older brother, Sam, but this year both her boys would go to the same school.

“Back to School Night” was the night before the first day of school and gave parents and kids an opportunity to visit each class and to meet the new teachers. Brenda had already met most of Jeremy’s new middle school teachers because the teachers had attended his IEP (Individualized Educational Program) meeting last spring to help plan for his move to middle school.

  In fact, the middle school general education teachers had played a key role in including Jeremy in their classes at the middle school.  Brenda had always wanted Jeremy and Sam to attend the same school. She knew that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) required that children with disabilities both go to school with children without disabilities and attend their neighborhood school, if possible. She liked the program provided at the elementary school where the school district had centralized services for elementary aged students with autism. Though it required some support services, Brenda had successfully pushed for Jeremy to be included in regular classes and activities with students without disabilities at the elementary school.

But, she didn’t like that the program wasn’t in their neighborhood school. Brenda had planned that at Jeremy’s IEP meeting last spring she would push for him to go to the neighborhood middle school with Sam. To Brenda’s pleasant surprise the middle school principle had encouraged the middle school teachers to attend Jeremy’s spring IEP meeting. So, at “Back to School Night” Brenda and Jeremy already knew most of his new teachers. Brenda, still on the sofa, crossed her fingers and thought “So far, so good.”       

  Many families struggle to make sure their children who have disabilities go to school along side of children without disabilities. The following are seven tips for using the IEP process to get the most out of the least restrictive environment. 

1.     Make sure the IEP team follows the appropriate process in determining the least restrictive environment for your child. The IEP team arrives at the least restrictive environment, step by step. Legally, the term “least restrictive environment” means that to the maximum extent appropriate children with disabilities are educated with children without disabilities. It also means that before deciding to remove a child with a disability from regular education and placing the child in a special class or schooling him separately, the IEP team must consider using supplementary aids and services. Thus, determining the least restrictive environment for a child with a disability is a process. The IEP team starts from the premise that the student will attend a regular classroom. If there is a question whether the student’s education can be achieved satisfactorily in the regular education classroom, then the first step the IEP team takes is to consider providing supplementary aids and services to support the student and teachers in the regular classroom. 

2.     Make sure the IEP team considers providing supplementary aids and services, before removing your child from the regular classroom. Supplementary aids and services include teacher training and support, itinerant instruction, modified curriculum, paraprofessional support, and assistive technology. These are supports that are provided in regular classrooms and other education-related settings, including extracurricular and nonacademic activities, to enable children with disabilities to learn successfully with children without disabilities. These supports can be provided to help the regular education teacher as well as the child. 

3.     Make sure a regular education teacher is a member of the IEP team. The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) requires that not less than one of the child’s regular education teachers be a member of the IEP team if the child is or may be participating in regular education. The regular education teacher is a key team member for two reasons. First, the regular education teacher should understand why the child needs certain services, accommodations, aids, and supports. For example, if the regular education teacher understands why a student needs a modified curriculum or needs a note taker, the teacher is more likely to make sure the service or accommodation is provided. Second, the regular education teacher needs to listen and contribute to discussions determining supplementary aids and services, program modifications and other support for school staff. Moreover the regular education teacher should be involved in discussing behavioral interventions and supports for the child. It would be difficult for the IEP team to determine what support a regular teacher needed without that teacher’s input. 

 4.     If necessary, include more than one regular education teacher on the IEP team. Middle school and high school students often have more than one teacher. The IDEA requires that not less than one of the child’s regular education teachers be included on the team but, in some circumstances, it may be important that more than one regular education teacher participate in the meeting. For example, if your child has a behavior intervention plan, it is important that all of your child’s teachers are aware of that plan and how to implement it. 

 5.     Make sure that the IEP team discusses including your child in nonacademic and extracurricular activities with children without disabilities. These activities include meals, recess, counseling services, athletics, transportation, health services, recreational activities, and special interest groups and clubs that are school-sponsored. As it does for academic services, the IDEA requires that supplementary aids or services be provided to support your child’s participation in nonacademic and extracurricular activities with children without disabilities.  

 6.     Don’t forget field trips, assemblies and other similar activities! Sometimes children with disabilities are left out of field trips and assemblies because some school staff, inexperienced in working with children with disabilities, are concerned with the student’s behavior. If this is a concern, the IEP team should discuss how supplementary aids and services can support the student and teacher so that the child can participate in the field trip or assembly with students without disabilities. Again, if the child’s regular education teachers are members of the IEP team, they can participate in discussing the supports they or the student may need to successfully participate in these activities. 

7.     Make sure that the IEP team adequately considers placing your child in the neighborhood school. The IDEA requires that children with disabilities attend the school they would attend if they did not have a disability. This is true unless the IEP requires some other arrangement. So, the IEP team should place a child in the neighborhood school unless the team determines that some another arrangement is educationally required. If another arrangement is needed, then the IDEA requires that the child attend school as close as possible to the child’s home.  

  Finally, remember that determining the least restrictive environment for a child is a team process reached step-by-step. Start with the assumption that the child will go to the neighborhood school and be in the regular classroom. If supports are needed to make that setting successful, then the team discusses those supports, proceeding one step at a time.

“Natural Environment” Under Part C Includes Preschool and Daycare Settings

Part C of the IDEA provides early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities. Under Part C infants and toddlers are children from birth through age two. Similar to the IDEA Part B requirement that students with disabilities be placed in the least restrictive environment, Part C requires that infants and toddlers receive services in the natural environment. Natural environment means providing services in the home and community settings in which children without disabilities participate. But, does that mean early intervention services cannot be provided in a preschool or day care setting? 

In a case decided last June, Andrew M. v. Delaware County Office of Mental Health, 490 F. 3d 337 (3rd Cir. 2007), the court said that natural environment is not limited to homes, child care centers and community settings, but can include a preschool setting. In this case, the Delaware County Office of Mental Health, the agency responsible for providing early intervention services, tried to limit the term natural environment to only the child’s home and did not allow the child to be served in a preschool setting. Serving the child in the home required that a parent or other caregiver be present and meant the child would be served isolated from other children. The court rejected that narrow view.

This makes perfect sense. Today, there are many families in which both parents work and are not available for their child to receive services in the home. Including preschool and day care settings as natural environments allows greater flexibility for families and will likely facilitate serving children in settings with other children.


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