Holiday Survival Tips For Families with Special Healthcare Needs

A Brief Overview 

Every family experiences holidays and end-of-year transitions differently. This article provides a sampling of ideas for families with children experiencing special healthcare needs. If a child also experiences behavioral difficulties, you may wish to read Home for the Holidays: The Gift of Positive Behavior Support 

Here are some quick takeaways: 

  • Keep to your everyday schedule and routine as much as possible to minimize medical and behavioral impacts. 
  • Add fun with home-based holiday activities and traditions tailored to your family’s needs or select family or group activities which work with your child’s medical needs. 
  • Plan and save surprises too: Mix up the activities so children can help with some planning and enjoy a few surprises. 
  • Plan for health and safety if travel is on the schedule
  • Families need a village: Help is a present, but sometimes you must ask for what is on your list. 
  • Gratitude is a gift: Moments of thankfulness calm the mind. For additional stress-reducers, PAVE provides a practical gift: Self-Care Videos for Families Series. We also offer short videos to help everyone find calm (Try Hot Chocolate Breath!): Mindfulness Video Series

Full Article 

Decide Which Routines and Schedules Might Be “Holiday Flexible” 

Many children with disabilities rely on schedules, either as a coping strategy or for medical reasons. It is critical to keep your child on schedule during the holidays as much as possible. This may mean leaving an event early or arriving later to accommodate tube feedings or respiratory treatments. It may mean putting your child to bed on time, even at Aunt Sally’s midnight party.” -Susan Agrawal, complexchild.org 

If your family can accommodate a bit more flexibility, a “Holiday” sleep schedule with an extra hour of special family time before bed might add a fun holiday flavor. For others, sleeping in or staying in jammies longer than usual might create a relaxing holiday feel. Be sure to call out these relaxed rules as holiday specials so everyone understands they are temporary changes and part of the “break.” 
 
Add Fun 

Families might set aside, or add onto ordinary routines, to: 

  • Bake 
  • Sing 
  • Read special stories 
  • Play games together 

On its website, WestEd.org, a California non-profit, provides a guidebook for families staying home for health and safety reasons: Caring for Young Children While Sheltering in Place.  Activity videos (story-based yoga, for example), easy-to-learn songs, arts-and-crafts, sensory play, and cooking with kids are among offerings for developmentally appropriate activities.  

Understanding your child’s healthcare needs and vulnerabilities can help with deciding which activities are right for your family.  

  • Drive-through light shows, and streaming concerts, theater, and holiday events are options in some areas that won’t expose a medically vulnerable child to other people’s germs. 
  • If weather and your family’s needs permit, outdoor holiday activities with groups of people are less likely to spread illness as we all learned during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Think of tree lightings, caroling, snow-sculpture or snowman-making events, and of course winter sports, if appropriate, for your child and family. 
  • One tradition that has always been virtual is the NORAD Santa tracker, which keeps tabs on Santa’s travel on Christmas Eve and has kid-centered games and songs. 

Finding the “just-right” amount of holiday celebrating can be tricky, so keep the Three Bears/Goldilocks principle in mind. For children who understand this theme, families can use the classic story to talk about how everyone makes choices about what is the “just right” amount of celebrating, eating, screen time, sleeping. 

Plan and Save Surprises Too 

A theme for the year can add a new flavor to family traditions. Here are some suggested themes: 

  • How I celebrated when I was a kid. 
  • Christmas 1821, 1721, etc. 
  • Holiday food, decorations, stories, music, etc. from another culture. 

The family can research the theme together to come up with ideas and activities. A theme night might include a chance for each family member to share something or lead an activity. On story night, each person might share a favorite holiday memory or a made-up story. If extended family want to take part, a video conference might be an added element to the evening. 

Adults can set aside a few ideas to save for in-the-moment surprises to sprinkle in. A prize, special treat, well-told joke, customized family game, or a surprise “guest” on the phone are a few ideas to plan out in advance. 

Travel 

For families choosing to travel, bags with medication and equipment still need to include masks, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes. Even with mask mandates mostly a thing of the past, it’s sensible to have these on hand for crowded airports and planes and visiting more vulnerable, elderly relatives.  

If plans include planes and trains, be sure to let agents and attendants know about a family member’s special accommodation needs.  

  • Washington travelers can make preflight preparations from Sea-Tac Airport by sending an email to the Sea-Tac Airport customer service.  
  • The phone number for the Spokane Airport Administrative Offices: (509) 455-6455. Amtrak provides a range of Accessible Travel Services
  • TSA Cares is designed to aid travelers with disabilities with TSA screening procedures. Call them at 855-787-2227 (8 AM to 11 PM Eastern Time M-F, and 9 AM-8 PM Eastern weekends and holidays). 

Sugary treats might impact planning for children with diabetes: An insulin pump might help during the temporary splurges so a child can enjoy the holiday without feeling too different or overwhelmed. 

Visions of sugar plums might need a different flavor for children with specific allergies or food sensitivities. Being prepared with substitutions may prevent a child from feeling left out. If someone else is doing the cooking, be sure to share about any severe allergies to make sure utensils and mixing containers do not get cross-contaminated. 

Families Need a Village 

No holiday is ever perfect, and unrealistic expectations can cause a celebration to sour. Communicating with relatives and friends can help: 

  • Make a “Gift Wish List” for your child with special healthcare needs to let relatives and friends know what gifts will be good for your child based on what they might need to avoid and what they can use and enjoy. Many large retailers (Target and Kohls, for example) carry lines of adaptive clothing and sensory products and toys. 
  • Ask for understanding and support from family and friends to reinforce positive messages and realistic expectations. Saying no might be important, so choose what works and toss the guilt if the family needs to pass on a tradition or an invitation. Or use the “No, but” strategy and offer an alternative such as a different time or activity. 
  • As always, remember to plan self-care, whether it is a soak in the tub, a special movie with popcorn, or simply a few pauses for five steady breaths. “Putting your own oxygen mask on first” will make you a stronger caregiver.  

Gratitude is a Gift 

Gratitude helps the mind escape from stress-thinking and move toward feelings of peacefulness and grace. Taking a few moments to mindfully reflect on something that brings joy, beauty, love, sweetness—anything that feels positive—can create a sense of ease. An agency called MindWise Innovations provides tips to practice gratitude during the holidays, including this one: Make a list of things you have instead of things you want.  

For additional stress-reducers, PAVE provides a practical gift: Self-Care Videos for Families Series. We also offer short videos to help everyone find calm (Try Hot Chocolate Breath!): Mindfulness Video Series

Susan Agrawal, writing on complexchild.org, reminds us “No holiday is ever going to turn out like you want it to, even if you have the most perfect storybook family in existence. Don’t expect perfection or anything even close to perfection. For some families, getting through the holidays may be as much as you can expect. For other families, changing holiday traditions may make the season not feel the same. That’s OK. Instead, try to find the blessings in the season, whether that means seeing family members or celebrating your child’s inch stones.”  

Additional Holiday Resources 

Giving the Gift of Sensory-Regulation: Supporting a Happy Holiday Season for All 

Home for the Holidays: The Gift of Positive Behavior Support 
 
https://wapave.org/holidays-can-hurt-when-trauma-is-present/10 Tips to Surviving the Holidays When Your Child is Medically Complex or Has a Disability 

Related 
 
Respiratory Disease Health Advisory 
 
Explore Adaptive Play with Your Child 

Home for the Holidays: The Gift of Positive Behavior Support

A Brief Overview 

  • This article provides examples and simple guidance about how to be more strategic in parenting a child who struggles with behavior. 
  • PAVE consulted with University of Washington positive behavior support expert Kelcey Schmitz for this article. 
  • Anticipating trouble and making a best guess about the behavior’s “purpose” is a great place to start. 
  • Listen and look for opportunities to praise expected behavior. It’s easy to forget to pay attention when things are going well, but keeping the peace is easier if praise is consistent while children are behaving as expected. 
  • Read on to gift the family with a plan for improving holiday happiness. 

Full Article 

Holidays can be challenging for families impacted by disability, trauma, grief, economic struggles, and other stressors. The holiday season has its own flavors of confusion. Families with children who struggle with behavior may want to head into the winter with plans in place. Anticipating where trouble could bubble up and developing a strategy for working it out provides all family members with opportunities for social-emotional growth, mindfulness, and rich moments. 

PAVE consulted with a University of Washington (UW) expert in positive behavior supports to provide insight and information for this article. Kelcey Schmitz is the school mental health lead for the Northwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center, housed at the UW School Mental Health Research and Training (SMART) Center. An area of expertise for Schmitz is Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), a framework for schools to support children’s academic, social, emotional, and behavioral strengths and needs at multiple levels. An MTSS framework makes room for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). When done well, PBIS teaches and reinforces positive social skills, communication strategies and “restorative justice” (working it out instead of punishing). 

“This holiday season may present additional challenges,” Schmitz says. “Remembering core features of PBIS at home, such as predictability, consistency, safety, and positive interactions are going to be key. In fact, lessons learned during stay-at-home orders during the pandemic can and will carry us through the holidays and beyond.” 

Schmitz has provided articles and content to support PAVE families over the years and offers the following tips for navigating the holidays by using PBIS strategies at home. 

Make a list and check it twice to know what troubling behaviors are about 

Whatever the holidays mean and include, family routines can shift. Food can look and taste different. The house may be decorated in a different way. School takes breaks. Weather changes, and sunrise and sunset are closer together. 

Children may struggle with changes in routines, different food items on the menu, overstimulating environments, long periods of unstructured activities, or sensory issues that make long pants, socks, gloves, coats, and hats feel like shards of glass. 

Keep in mind that all behaviors serve a purpose; they are a way for the child to solve a problem. Without appropriate social skills, children will do what is necessary to have their needs met in the quickest way possible. However, adults who can predict problem behaviors may also be able to prevent them. 

TIP: Anticipate trouble and make a best guess about the motivation 

Set your child (and family) up for holiday success by thinking ahead about the types of routines and situations that might be challenging. Craft a plan to intervene early, before a full-blown escalation. 

Create a best guess statement to better understand the relationship between an unwanted behavior and the child’s environment. Summarize what usually happens by describing: 

  • The behavior (tantrum, hitting, refusal). 
  • Circumstances that set the stage (what’s going on right before the behavior?). 
  • What happens after the behavior (time out, angry adults, something removed or given). 
  • A best guess about the child’s motivation/the “purpose” of the behavior (to get something or get out of something). 

Here is an example: 

At Grandma’s holiday gathering, an adult encourages a child to try a food, demands a “please” or “thank you,” or scolds the child. Note if the child is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable in an unusual or unpredictable situation. These are the circumstances that set the stage. 

The child cries and yells loud enough to be heard in another room (description of the behavior). 

During the child’s outbursts, others leave her alone (what happens after the behavior). 

Best guess about the purpose? The child may want to avoid unpleasant people, food, or situations. 

Making a good guess about what causes and maintains the behavior (crowded or overstimulating environment, being rushed, being told they can’t have or do something they want, different expectations, demands, exhaustion, hunger) can support a plan and potentially avoid worst-case scenarios. 

Determining the purpose or function of a behavior may require a closer look at what typically happens (what others say or do) after the behavior occurs. The behavior may be inappropriate, but the reason for it usually is not.  Most of the time there is a logical explanation. Here are some questions to help think it through: 

  • Does the child get something–or get out of something? 
  • Does the child generally seek or avoid something, such as: 
    • Attention (from adults or peers)? 
    • Activity? 
    • Tangibles (toys/other objects)? 
    • Sensory stimulation? 

Make a list and check it twice: Prevention is key 

Many behaviors can be prevented using simple proactive strategies. Adults can use their best-guess statement to build a customized strategy. Here are some starter ideas that might help prevent or reduce the intensity, frequency, or duration of unwanted behaviors: 

  • Make sure the child is well rested and has eaten before going out. 
  • Bring food that is familiar and appealing. 
  • Anticipate challenges, and plan accordingly. 
  • Pre-teach family expectations (respectful, responsible, safe) and talk about how those expectations work at grandma’s house: “When someone gives you a present, say thank you and smile at the person who gave you the gift.” For information about developing family expectations, see PAVE’s article, Tips to Help Parents Reinforce Positive Behaviors at Home. 
  • Encourage the child to bring a comfort item (toy, book, blanket). 
  • Give more “start” messages than “stop” messages. 
  • Teach a signal the child can use to request a break. 
  • Create a social story about family gatherings; review it regularly. 
  • Rehearse! Practice/pretend having a meal at Grandma’s house, opening gifts, playing with cousins, and other likely scenarios. 
  • Arrive early to get comfortable before the house gets crowded. 
  • Create a visual schedule of events, and let the child keep track of what’s happening or cross off activities as they happen. 

Respond quick as a wink: Reward replacement behavior 

An essential prevention strategy is teaching what to do instead of the unwanted behavior. “What to do instead” is called replacement behavior. To be effective, the replacement behavior needs to get results just as quickly and effectively as the problem behavior. 

For example, if a child learns a signal for taking a break, adults need to respond to the signal just as fast as they would if the child starts to scream and cry. 

Responding quickly will strengthen the replacement behavior and help make sure that the unwanted behavior is no longer useful. 

Here are steps to help teach replacement behaviors: 

  1. Demonstrate/model the wanted behavior 
  1. Provide many opportunities for practice 
  1. Let the child know they got it right (as you would if they learned a skill like riding a bike, writing their name, or saying their colors) 

Praise a silent night 

Inspect what you expect. Listen and look for opportunities to praise expected behavior. It’s easy to forget to pay attention when things are going well, but keeping the peace is easier if praise is consistent while children are behaving as expected. 

  • Evidence indicates that children’s behavior improves best with a 5:1 ratio of positive-to-negative feedback.  
  • Increasing positive remarks during difficult times—such as holidays —might reduce escalations. 
  • Provide frequent, genuine, and specific praise, with details that help encourage the specific behavior being noticed. For example, say, “You did a nice job sharing that toy truck with your cousin!” 

All is calm: Intervene at the first sign of trouble 

Be ready to prompt appropriate behavior, redirect, or offer a calming activity when there are early signs of agitation or frustration. 

  • Provide early, clear instructions about “what to do instead,” using language and modeling consistent with what was pre-taught and practiced (see above). 
  • For example, if a child is getting frustrated, say, “Remember, you can give me the peace signal if you need a break.” 
  • Redirect the child to another activity or topic when appropriate and practical. 
  • Hand the child a comfort item (stuffed animal, blanket). 
  • Show empathy and listen actively: “It seems like you’re having some big feelings right now. Want to talk about it?” After listening, maybe say, “Wow, that’s a lot to feel.” 

Do you hear what I hear? Heed alarm bells when plans need to shift 

Not all challenging behaviors can be prevented, and adults may overestimate a child’s ability to control emotions. A child experiencing significant distress may be unable to process what is going on around them and follow what may seem like simple instructions. 

If an adult’s best efforts are unable to prevent or diffuse a behavior escalation, a graceful exit may be the best strategy. It’s important for adults to remember that a child’s crisis isn’t their crisis. An adult’s ability to remain level-headed is critical, and children may ultimately learn from the behavior they see modeled. 

Wait for a child to calm down before addressing the issue: An overwhelmed brain is not able to problem solve or learn. Later, everyone can review what worked or did not work to adjust the strategy for next time. 

Believe: Be a beacon for hope 

Support a child to learn, practice, and perform behaviors that enable fun, rich family experiences. The work may feel challenging—and the scale of the project may be impacted by a unique set of tough circumstances—but expecting and accepting the challenge enables the whole family to move toward new opportunities. Trust that the work will pay off—and relish the moments of success, however large or small. Believe that consistency and predictability can make a big impact this holiday season and beyond. 

Here are a few points to review: 

  • What might seem fun and relaxing to adults, could be overwhelming and upsetting to children. 
  • Children are more likely to exhibit the behavior that will most quickly get their needs met, regardless of the social appropriateness. 
  • Acting out is typically a symptom of an underlying issue – it’s important to examine the root of the problem for long-term positive results. 
  • Prevention strategies and intervening early can be very effective, but they are often underutilized. Plan ahead to eliminate, modify, or neutralize what might set off behavior. 
  • Support wanted behaviors by teaching them, practicing them, modeling them, and making them consistent sources for praise and encouragement. 

Resources: 

The Comprehensive, Integrated Three-Tiered Model of Prevention (ci3t.org) provides videos and other Related Resources for Families in English and Spanish (scroll down the page to find the Resources for Families). 

The Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS.org) provides a downloadable booklet (English and Spanish) for Supporting Families at Home with PBIS 

Parent Training Modules from Vanderbilt University’s Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL), available in English and Spanish 

YouTube video interview with Mark Durand, author of Optimistic Parenting: Hope and Help for You and Your Challenging Child 

The Importance of Fathers and Father Figures

A Brief overview

  • Parents are children’s first and primary teachers.
  • Every parent has a unique way of caring for and interacting with his/her/their child, with mothers and fathers typically interacting with their children in different ways.
  • Male family members and father figures serve key roles in the healthy development of children and youth.
  • Fathers and father figures can experience barriers in supporting their children, including the myth that there are no barriers.
  • Resources are available to support fathers and father figures on their parenting journey.

Full Article

Parents are children’s first and primary teachers. Every parent has their own way of caring for and interacting with his/her/their child, with mothers and fathers typically interacting with their children in different ways.

Who are fathers and father figures?

Fathers and father figures play an important role in supporting a child’s growth and development across the lifespan. The term “father figure” is sometimes used broadly to describe males who are important in the life of a child. Father figures can include adoptive fathers, foster fathers, loving male relatives, godfathers, uncles, legal guardians, even mentors and older friends.

Research has shown in the early years, fathers support school readiness and the overall well-being of the family.

What are some barriers fathers have to full involvement with their children?

In addition to the many challenges families of children with disabilities face when navigating education and healthcare, there are additional obstacles which may include:

  • Complex legal systems that historically demonstrated bias against males.
  • Lack of confidence in parenting.
  • Conflicts in cultural values that may view caregiving as the role of the mother.
  • Systems that may favor or support mothers’ involvement as a priority.
  • Overall lack of adequate resources to support fathering.
  • Challenges in communication when parents are parenting apart.

The lack of support is often connected to the myth that fathers and father figures are not in need of specialized assistance. When fathers and father figures are seen, supported, and engaged with their children, the child and the whole community benefits. There are many resources available to schools, community organizations, and agencies who are serving or interested in supporting strong fathers and families.

Additional Resources:

LGBTQ+ and Disability Rights in School

A Brief Overview

  • Youth and young adults with disabilities may also have diverse sexualities and gender identities.
  • Students can experience discrimination based on disability, and face discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
  • LGBTQ+ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), and others. The “plus” represents other gender identities including pansexual and Two-Spirit.
  • LGBTQ identities are NOT disabilities, but students with disabilities
  • may also be LGBTQ+.
  • LGBTQ+ youth with disabilities report high rates of harassment and are more likely to be bullied or harassed than students without disabilities.
  • Race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are all protected classes under Washington law.
  • PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff help families understand and navigate service systems for children 0-26. Click Get Help on the PAVE website or call 800-572-7368.

Full Article

LGBTQ+ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), and others. The “plus” represents other gender identities including pansexual and Two-Spirit.

Youth and young adults with disabilities may also have diverse sexualities and gender identities. LGBTQ+ identities are NOT disabilities, but students with disabilities may also be LGBTQ+. The prevalence of disability among LGBQT+ youth is not clear, but research is emerging. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation 2018 LGBTQ+ Youth Report surveyed over 12,000 LGBTQ+ youth aged 13-17 from across the United States. One in seven (15%) LGBTQ+ youth said they had a disability. A 2020 Trevor Project survey found that 5% of LGBTQ+ reported having deafness or a hearing disability, whereas a 2021 Trevor Project survey found that 5% of LGBTQ+ youth were diagnosed with autism.

Discrimination often refers to a person or a group of people being treated differently because they belong to a protected class. According to the HRC, “For LGBTQ+ youth with a disability, stigma associated with their intersecting identities places them at even more risk for bullying and harassment. More than one-third (36%) of disabled LGBTQ+ students say they have been bullied or harassed in school because of their disability, while three in ten (30%) say they have felt unsafe at school because of their disability.”

Washington is one of only 19 states that explicitly protects LGBTQ+ students in public schools from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Washington also has laws to protect students from discrimination based on disability.

Effective January 31, 2020, all districts in Washington must have a policy and procedure that includes all elements of Washington Association School Board Directors Association (WSSDA) model policy for gender inclusive schools and procedure (numbered 3211 and 3211P, respectively). Gender-inclusive schools benefit all students, help to equalize student experiences and outcomes; and prioritize student health, safety, and wellbeing.

The HRC, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Education Association produced a Guide for Educators and Parents/Guardians on Supporting LGBTQ Students with an IEP or 504 Plan. This guide emphasizes that “Ideally, students should be allowed access to needed resources, services, restrooms and locker rooms without such access being written into a Section 504 Plan or IEP, but there are times when including specific provisions about equal access may be necessary to ensure that students are able to access school programs and facilities and benefit from classroom instruction.”

If you are concerned about your child’s rights in school:

Additional Resources:

Resources for LGBTQ+ People Living with Disabilities:

Infant Early Childhood Mental Health

A Brief Overview

  • Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) is a term that describes how young children develop socially and emotionally. They learn about their emotions form close and secure relationships with their caregivers and family members. They learn and explore the environment – all in the context of family, community, and culture.
  • Families concerned about a child’s development can call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588, with support in multiple languages. Parents can complete a developmental screening online for free at Parent Help 123.
  • PAVE provides an article for next steps after age 3: What’s Next when Early Childhood Services End at Age 3? Another PAVE article for families new to special education: Steps to Read, Understand, and Develop an Initial IEP.
  • PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff help families understand and navigate service systems for children 0-26. Click Get Help on the PAVE website or call 800-572-7368.
  • Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) helps young children with disabilities or delays to learn and supports their unique development.

Full Article

New parents may struggle to know whether their child’s emotional development is on track. They may have a feeling that a milestone is missed, or they may observe siblings or the emotional well-being of other children and notice their child is developing differently. Sometimes a parent just needs reassurance. Other times, a child may have a developmental delay or a disability. In those cases, early support, including Infant Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) can be critical to a child’s lifelong learning and development.

IECMH is a term that describes how very young children develop socially and emotionally. They form relationships with other people. They learn about their emotions and how to control them. This happens in the settings of their family, community, and culture. (Zero to Three, Basics of Early Childhood Mental Health, 2017).

According to Best Starts for Kids, relationships are at the heart of human development and thriving for infants, toddlers, and young children. Relationships with parents and caregivers give very young children the social and emotional foundations they need to learn and thrive.

The Washington Health Care Authority reports around 1 in 6 young children has a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental condition (Cree et al., 2018). These conditions may be treated with infant early childhood mental health (IECMH) services.

Services work to improve the quality of the child’s relationship with parents or caregivers. They can:

  • Help the distress of the mental health concern.
  • Support the return to healthy development and behavior.

When families receive Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) services for a child, the child is tested as part of an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).

The evaluation looks at the child’s ability to:

  • Identify and understand their own feelings;
  • Accurately notice and understand other people’s emotional states.
  • Manage strong emotions in a positive way.
  • Control their behavior.
  • Develop empathy (understand how people feel based on the child’s own experience)
  • Make and support relationships.

The evaluation may show the child is not developing well in some of these areas.  IECMH services may help.

Some examples of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health services include:

  • Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation
  • Parent training
  • Childcare provider training
  • Group training
  • Parent Behavioral Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Infant/Child – Parent Psychotherapy
  • Play therapy

If you are concerned about a child’s development:

  • To learn about typical development, read the birth-to-6 pre-screening chart in English or Spanish
  • Please Ask is a three-minute video that shows the importance of referring infants and toddlers for early intervention. ESIT is a part if the Department of Children, Youth and Families
  • Families can call the ESIT local lead agency: Local Lead Agencies by County
  • Family Health Hotline: 1-800-322-2588. This statewide, toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish, and other languages.
  • Early Learning Transition: When Birth-3 Services End

More Resources:

Children Do Well if They Can: A Behavioral Strategy from Ross Greene

Child Expert Ross Greene wants adults to rethink the way they support children who struggle with their behavior. He offers two reasons children behave in unexpected ways:

  • Lagging skills
  • Unsolved problems

Greene says about 80 percent of problem behaviors at school are due to academic struggles and the rest are related to social inadequacies. To help children make good choices and participate in their education, he says, adults need to collaborate with children to help them learn the skills they need and solve problems that are getting in the way.

PAVE was among state agencies that collaborated to offer an online training for educators and families that Greene provided near the end of 2022. That training, Children Do Well if They Can, is available on-demand. Greene says adults are misguided when they presume children do well only if they want to.

“There is 0 research telling us that kids respond poorly to problems and frustrations because they’re poorly motivated,” Greene says. “That study doesn’t exist. There’s a mountain of research telling us that they’re lacking skills. What skills? Here are the umbrella skills: flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance, problem-solving, emotion regulation.”

Families that agree with Ross Greene’s approach can tell the school they want to follow this model in rethinking a student’s supports at school. The lagging skills and unsolved problems can be addressed through a well-built Individualized Education Program (IEP) with a positive behavior support plan, Greene says.

A key point is that “escalation” is downstream. The unsolved problems and lagging skills are addressed “upstream,” before a troubling behavior shows up. For example, an accommodation to support a student “when frustrated” is downstream. If adults instead figure out what problem is causing frustration, they can collaborate with the child to solve that problem and prevent frustration.

If, for example, a child is not learning to read at the same rate as peers, the child might need to be taught reading in an individualized way to have success in reading and regain confidence. That might solve a long-term problem. If the student instead takes a break every time they get frustrated, they might never get better at reading. The problem is pushed down the road.

Greene provides a questionnaire for families and schools to start with—before they discuss what needs to be in the IEP or behavior plan. His form is called the ALSUP—Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems.

The video, Children Do Well if They Can, is about 2 hours and includes comments by Washington State leaders who are proposing an end to isolation/restraint practices in schools. Greene’s presentation lasts about an hour and begins about 15 minutes into the video.

PAVE provides many resources to support families whose children are missing educational opportunities due to behavior. Type the word “behavior” or “discipline” into the search bar to explore other options. Here are places to begin:

Surrogate Parents Support Unaccompanied Students in Special Education

A Brief Overview

  • Parent participation in IEP process is a protected right for students with disabilities. If a student doesn’t have a family caregiver or legal guardian to advocate in their behalf, a surrogate parent is assigned to fill that role.
  • A surrogate parent is not paid and cannot be employed by the school system, or any other agency involved in the care or education of the child.
  • The provision for a surrogate parent is part of federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Section 300.519).

Full Article

If a student eligible for special education services does not have a family caregiver, adoptive parent, or other legal guardian fulfilling the role of parent, then a surrogate parent is assigned to ensure the student’s rights are protected. The surrogate parent fulfills the family caregiver role on a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team and advocates to ensure the student’s needs are met.

A surrogate parent is an individual appointed by the public agency (usually a school district) responsible for the student’s special education services. Schools are responsible to assign a surrogate parent within 30 days after recognizing the need. Note that a child who is a ward of the state may be assigned a surrogate parent by the judge overseeing their case.

If a private individual, such as a neighbor or friend, has explicit written permission from the student’s parent or guardian to care for the student, a surrogate parent is not required.

A student 18-21 is responsible for their own educational decision-making unless they have a guardian to exercise their legal rights. A school district is responsible to assign a surrogate parent for a student declared legally incompetent or if an adult student with a disability asks for a surrogate parent.

A surrogate parent is required for a minor student when the parent cannot be identified or located or if parental rights have been terminated. A student’s parents are considered to be unknown if their identity cannot be determined from a thorough review of the student’s educational and other agency records.

A student’s parents are considered unavailable if they cannot be located through reasonable effort that includes documented telephone calls, letters, certified letters with return receipts, visits to the parents’ last known address, or if a court order has terminated parental rights. A parent is also considered unavailable if unable to participate in the student’s education due to distance or incarceration.

If a parent is too ill to participate at a meeting, either in person or by phone, that parent has the option of giving another individual written permission to act for them.

An uncooperative or uninvolved parent is not the same as an unavailable one.  A surrogate parent is not assigned because parents choose not to participate in their child’s education.

A child identified as an unaccompanied homeless youth by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is an example of a student who would be assigned a surrogate parent to support them within the special education system. Children with surrogate parents might live in foster homes, nursing homes, public or private group homes, state hospitals, or correctional facilities.

In some cases, a state agency has guardianship of a student with a disability: That student requires the assignment of a surrogate parent. 

Foster parents need to be formally appointed by the school as surrogate parents if they do not have legal guardianship. Relatives without formal kinship rights also can be designated as surrogate parents within the special education process.

A surrogate parent is not paid and cannot be employed by the school system, or any other agency involved in the care or education of the child. However, an unaccompanied homeless youth may be supported by appropriate staff from an emergency shelter, street outreach team, or other agency temporarily until a surrogate parent with no conflict of interest is appointed.

A surrogate parent must have knowledge and skills that ensure adequate representation of the student. A community volunteer, guardian ad litem, or other invested adult might serve as a surrogate parent. The surrogate parent must commit to understanding the student’s strengths and needs and how the educational system is structured to support the student’s services. Ideally, the surrogate parent lives near the student and is a match for providing culturally appropriate help in the student’s language.

The surrogate parent represents the student in all matters relating to special education identification, evaluation, and placement and works to ensure that the student receives a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) from their school-based services.

The provision for a surrogate parent is part of federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Section 300.519).

Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) includes some downloadable resources about the surrogate parent in its Special Education Resource Library.

PAVE is here to help all caregivers, including surrogate parents. For direct assistance, click Get Help to complete an online Help Request Form.

Advocacy Tips for Parents

When a child has a disability, parents often learn that getting their child’s needs met requires persistence, organization, and advocacy. Advocacy is an action. A person is an advocate when they organize the work and press onward until a goal is achieved. Laws that protect the rights of students with disabilities also protect parents as legal advocates for their children.

This article includes tips for parent advocates working with the school. For more about parent rights, read PAVE’s article, Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.

Before a meeting…

  • Invite someone to attend with you. A friend or family member can help you take notes, ask questions, and keep track of your agenda.
  • Make sure you understand the purpose of the meeting. Is it to talk about an evaluation, review the Individualized Education Program (IEP), write a Section 504 Plan, consider a behavior support plan, discuss placement, or something else? If you want a certain outcome, make sure it’s within the scope of the meeting. If not, you may need more than one meeting.
  • Make sure you know who will be at your meeting. An IEP team has required attendees. PAVE provides more detail about IEP team requirements in an article that includes a Sample Letter to Request an IEP Meeting.
  • Consider anyone else you want to attend. Parents have the right to invite vocational specialists, related service providers, behavioral health providers, peer support specialists—anyone with knowledge of the student and their needs.
  • Get copies of important documents (evaluation, IEP, 504 Plan, behavior plan, etc.). Read them carefully so you can use these documents to organize your concerns and questions. Keep in mind that a services program/plan is a draft until after you meet.
  • If the school doesn’t provide documents with enough time for you to prepare, consider rescheduling.
  • Mark up a Draft IEP with your suggestions and questions:
    • Read the educational impact statement carefully. Consider if it accurately summarizes your student’s strengths and needs. If not, makes notes about what you want to add or change.
    • Note any changes you want under Medical/Physical or Parent Concerns.
    • If a goal is too hard or too easy, make a note to ask about adjusting it.
    • If a goal is written with jargon and impossible to understand, ask for an explanation and maybe a rewrite
    • Prepare to ask how teachers are using Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) to help your student reach IEP goals.
    • Read the services table, sometimes referred to as a “services grid” or “services matrix” to understand how often and where your student is being served.
    • Consider any questions you have about placement or access to general education settings. If you believe your student could be successful in general education for more of their day, consider what supports would make that possible.
    • Write down any questions about how the classroom or curriculum are adapted to be accessible. You might ask if the teachers are using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies to support multiple types of learners.
    • Write down your questions about progress and how it’s being tracked.
  • For an IEP or 504 Plan, read the accommodations carefully and make notes to ensure they are individualized and implemented to truly support your student.
  • Highlight anything in the behavior plan that sounds like bias or prejudice and consider how it might be rewritten. PAVE provides examples in a video training about development of a Behavior Intervention Plan.
  • To help you organize your questions and concerns, PAVE provides: Get Ready for Your Meeting with a Handout for the Team.
  • Learn about student and family rights and practice the vocabulary that empowers your advocacy. PAVE provides a three-part video training to help: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More.

At your meeting…

  • Do your best to arrive on time to make sure there is time to address concerns. If you notice there may not be enough time to do this, request to schedule another meeting.
  • Make sure the meeting begins with introductions and that you know everyone’s job and what role they serve on the IEP team. If it’s important to you, when you introduce yourself you can ask team members to use your name instead of mom, dad, gramma, or something else other than your name when they refer to you.
  • Ask school staff to explain acronyms or jargon while they are talking because you want to understand what everyone says.
  • If an IEP team member is absent (WAC 392-172A-03095), parents must sign consent for the absence. If someone is missing and you don’t think it’s appropriate to continue, ask to reschedule. If key members need to leave before the meeting is over, consider ending the meeting and schedule an alternative day/time.
  • Keep focus on your student’s needs. Here are a few positive sentence starters: I expect, I understand, My child needs….
  • If you notice the conversation steering into past grievances, the district’s lack of funds, or what “all the other children” are doing, bring focus back to your child and their current needs. Try stating, “I want to focus on [name].”
  • Use facts and information to back up your positions and avoid letting emotion take over. Ask for a break if you need time for some regulated breathing or to review documents or notes.
  • Notice other team members’ contributions that support your child’s needs. Here are a few phrases to consider:
    • “I think what you said is a good idea. I also think it could help to…”
    • “I think you are right, and I would like to add…”
    • “I hear what you are saying, and…”
  • If you don’t understand something, ask questions until the answer is clear.
  • If you disagree about something and your comments aren’t changing anyone’s mind, explain that you want your position included in the Prior Written Notice (PWN), which is the document the school is required to send immediately after an IEP meeting.
  • If you hear something confusing, ask the school to put their position and rationale in writing so you can follow up.
  • Request to end the meeting if it stops being productive. Tell the other team members that you would like to continue working with them and ask to schedule another meeting. This might include adding people to the team to help resolve issues.

After a meeting…

  • Review your notes and highlight or circle places where there is an action or something that needs follow through. Transfer relevant information into your calendar.
  • When the Prior Written Notice (PWN) arrives (usually within a few days), compare it to your notes. Make sure all key agreements, actions, and IEP/504 amendments match what you understood to be the plan when you left the meeting.
  • If you want something changed in the PWN, ask for those changes in writing.
  • If you disagree with the outcome of the meeting, review your Procedural Safeguards (downloadable in multiple languages) and consider your dispute resolution options.
  • If you consider filing a Community Complaint, PAVE provides a video training to walk you through that option.
  • Consider contacting school district special education staff if they didn’t participate in the meeting and you think your team needs more support.
  • Consider asking for another meeting, Mediation, or a Facilitated IEP meeting, if issues are unresolved.

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) program can help family caregivers organize their concerns and options. Click Get Help for individualized assistance.

IDEA: The Foundation of Special Education

A Brief Overview

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that entitles children to special education services if disability significantly impacts access to education and a specially designed program is needed.
  • IDEA has been federal law since 1990, and key concepts are from the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, passed in 1975. PAVE provides an article and infographic about disability rights history.
  • A primary principle of the IDEA is the right to FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) for students eligible for special education services. FAPE rights are also protected by civil rights laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • PAVE provides a three-part video training with further information: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More.

Full Article

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that was passed in 1990 and has been amended. The IDEA provides children with qualifying disabilities, from birth to age 21, with the right to services designed to meet their unique, individual needs.

Eligible children ages 3-21 who receive services at school have a right to FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education. In accordance with the IDEA, FAPE is provided when individualized services enable a student with a disability to make progress that is appropriate, in light of their circumstances.

Services are delivered through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). A non-discriminatory evaluation and family participation on an IEP team are aspects of FAPE. Families have dispute resolution options that are described in the Procedural Safeguards.

IDEA requires FAPE to be provided in the Least Restrictive Environment to the maximum extent possible, which creates a responsibility for schools to serve students in the general education environment, with appropriately inclusive access to grade-level learning, whenever possible. Access to general education might be provided through an adapted curriculum, additional adult support, assistive technology, or something else. PAVE provides more information about Washington State’s work to improve inclusive practices.

Many of these concepts were part of IDEA’s predecessor law, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, passed in 1975. That was the first United States law that required schools to provide special education services to all children with eligible disabilities. PAVE provides an article and infographic about disability rights history. The IDEA’s primary features are further detailed later in this article.

The IDEA drives how states design their own special education policies and procedures. Title 34, Part 104 is the non-discrimination federal statute under the Office for Civil Rights Department of Education. In Washington State, rules for the provision of special education are in Chapter 392-172A of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC).

FAPE is an important acronym to learn!

Families often ask: What does the school have to provide? The answer to that question is FAPE. The school district is responsible to make sure a student with an eligible disability condition is receiving FAPE.

As part of their right to FAPE, a student eligible for an IEP has the right to an individualized services program that ensures their education is appropriate, equitable, and accessible. All of those terms are part of FAPE. Figuring out how to provide FAPE is the work of an IEP team, and part of FAPE is ensuring that family is part of the decision-making team.

FAPE must ensure that the student finds meaningful success, in light of their circumstances. Trivial progress on IEP goals or the same goals year after year does not meet the federal standard for FAPE. A lawsuit referred to as Endrew F was settled by the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court and included specific requirements for meaningful progress and parent participation.

If a neighborhood school cannot provide the services and programming to guarantee FAPE within the general education classroom, then the school district is responsible to work through the IEP process to design an individualized program and placement that does meet the student’s needs. Keep in mind that Special Education is a Service, Not a Place: see PAVE’s article with that statement as its title.

IDEA considers the whole life of a person with a disability

IDEA includes Parts A, B and C. The right of a child with disabilities to receive an education that prepares that child for adult life is stated in Part A: ​

“Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society…

“Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”

Part B of the IDEA covers children ages 3 through 21—or until graduation from high school. Students who receive services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) are covered under Part B.

Part C protects children Birth to age 3 who need family support for early learning. ​The disability category of developmental delay overlaps early learning and IEP and can qualify a child for free, family-focused services to age 3 and school-based services through age 9. PAVE provides an Early Learning Toolkit: Overview of Services for Families of Young Children.

To qualify for an IEP, a student meets criteria in one of the following eligibility categories. Washington State describes each eligibility category in WAC 392-172A-01035. For more information and resources related to each category, please refer to PAVE’s article, Evaluations Part 1: Where to Start When a Student Needs Special Help at School.

  • Autism
  • Emotional Behavioral Disability
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Speech/Language Impairment
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Hearing
  • Deafness
  • Deaf blindness
  • Visual Impairment/Blindness
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Developmental Delay (ages 0-9)
Explanation of what IDEA stands for

Click to print the explanation of IDEA

Educational evaluations ask 3 key questions:

The disability must have an adverse impact on learning. Not every student who has a disability and receives an evaluation will qualify for an IEP. Following procedures described by the IDEA, school districts evaluate students to consider 3 key questions:

  1. Does the student have a disability?
  2. Does the disability adversely impact education?
  3. Does the student need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)?

When each answer is yes, a student qualifies for services. In each area of identified need, Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is recommended to help the student overcome the impact of the disability to access FAPE. Progress in that area of learning is tracked through goal-setting and progress monitoring. PAVE provides various articles about the evaluation process, including a sample letter to refer a student for services.

IDEA’s Primary Principles

  1. Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Students with disabilities who need a special kind of teaching or other help have the right to an education that is not only free but also appropriate, designed just for them. Under IDEA rules, schools provide special education students with “access to FAPE,” so that’s a common way to talk about whether the student’s program is working.
  2. Appropriate Evaluation: The IDEA requires schools to take a closer look at children with potential disabilities (Child Find Mandate). There are rules about how quickly those evaluations get done. The results provide information that the school and parents use to make decisions about how the child’s education can be improved.
  3. Individualized Education Program (IEP): An IEP is a dynamic program, not a packet of paper or a location (Special Education is a Service, Not a Place). The program is reviewed at least once a year by a team that includes school staff and family. Every student on an IEP gets some extra help from teachers, but the rest of the program depends on what a student needs to learn. Areas of need may be academic, social and emotional skills, and/or general life skills. By age 16, an IEP includes a plan for life beyond high school, and helping the student make a successful transition into life after high school becomes a primary goal of the IEP.
  4. Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): The IDEA says that students should be in class with non-disabled classmates “to the maximum extent appropriate.” Regular classrooms and school spaces are the least restrictive. If the school has provided extra help in the classroom but the special education student still struggles to access FAPE, then the IEP team considers other options. The school explains placement and LRE in writing on the IEP document. PAVE has an article about LRE.
  5. Parent and Student Participation: The IDEA and state regulations about IEP team membership make it clear that parents or legal guardians are equal partners with school staff in making decisions about their student’s education. When the student turns 18, educational decision-making is given to the student. The school does its best to bring parents and students into the meetings, and there are specific rules about how the school provides written records and meeting notices (WAC 392-172A-03100).
  6. Procedural Safeguards: The school provides parents with a written copy of their rights at referral and yearly thereafter. A copy of the procedural safeguards is downloadable in multiple languages from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the guidance agency for Washington schools. Parents may receive procedural safeguards from the school any time they request them. They also may receive a copy if they file a complaint with the state. Procedural safeguards are offered when a school removes a student for more than 10 days in a school year through exclusionary discipline. When parents and schools disagree, these rights describe the actions a parent can take informally or formally.

PAVE provides information, training, resources, and 1:1 support through our Parent Training and Information (PTI) center. To get help, reach out through our Help Request Form or by calling 800-572-7368.

Bullying at School: Key Points for Families and Students with Disabilities

Transcript of this video is below:

When students with disabilities are bullied, schools are legally responsible to end the bullying.

By law, schools must act to restore the safety and well-being of students who are harmed by harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

Those words—harassment, intimidation, and bullying, make an acronym: HIB. This video is about HIB protections for students with disabilities.

Please note that bullying increases the risks for suicide and self-harming behaviors.

For a mental health crisis, call 988

For crisis help on topics related to sexual orientation and identity, call The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386

What law says the school has to end the bullying and help my student?

Specific anti-bullying protections for students with disabilities come from Section 504, which is part of a federal law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The civil right to be protected from bullying applies to all students with disabilities, regardless of whether they have a Section 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). These rights are upheld by the Office for Civil Rights—OCR.

Anyone who knows about an incident of harassment, intimidation, and bullying at school or during a school-sponsored activity can file an OCR complaint at the local, state, or federal level.

What does state law require?

Washington State’s 2019 Legislature passed a law that requires school districts to write formal HIB policies and appoint a person called a HIB Compliance Officer to spread awareness and uphold the laws.

What can parents do?

If your child is bullied at school, ask for the name of your district’s HIB Compliance Officer. Talk to that person about your options and request a HIB complaint form.

If the act included a physical assault or serious property damage, file a police report.

Request an emergency meeting of the IEP or Section 504 team to add supports for the student to ensure emotional and physical safety at school.

What counts as harassment, intimidation, or bullying?

Washington State defines a HIB violation as an intentional act that:

  • Physically harms a student or damages the student’s property
  • Has the effect of substantially disrupting a student’s education
  • Is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment
  • Or has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of school

A HIB act may be electronic, written, verbal, or physical.

What does a school have to do when a child with a disability is bullied?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) requires schools to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate what happened. That means they talk to everyone involved and any witnesses and write a detailed report.

OCR requires the school to stop the bullying now and into the future.

OCR also says that schools must make sure the student who was bullied is helped and not further injured by actions taken in response. The victim should not be suspended, for example.

OCR says: “Any remedy should not burden the student who has been bullied.”

To learn more about federal laws and complaints, contact OCR at 800-421-3481.

Type the word Bullying or Discipline into the search bar at wapave.org to find additional resources.

What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School

A Brief Overview

Full Article

Behavior is a form of communication, and children often try to express their needs and wants more through behavior than words. When a young person has a disability or has experienced trauma or other distress, adults and authorities may need to put in extra effort to understand. Missed cues and unmet needs can result in unexpected and sometimes explosive behaviors, which may lead schools to suspend or expel students. Schools are required to address students’ behavioral health needs and limit use of punitive discipline.

Unfortunately, not all students are adequately supported. State data indicate that students with disabilities are disciplined at least 2.5 times more often than non-disabled peers (See WA State Report Card). For students with disabilities who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC), the numbers are consistently higher within Washington State and nationwide.

By many state and national measures, children’s behavioral health worsened during the pandemic and many children are developmentally behind in social, emotional, and behavioral skills. Governor Jay Inslee on March 14, 2021, issued an emergency proclamation declaring children’s mental health to be in crisis. At the same time, many schools and behavioral health agencies struggle to meet rising demand for services. PAVE provides a toolkit with further information about options for assisting children and young people with behavioral health conditions and ways to advocate for system change in Washington State.

This article provides information about school discipline. Keep in mind that disability rights protect individuals with all disabilities, including behavioral health disabilities. School policies and practices related to discipline may not discriminate against students, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability condition. Federal and state laws require that students with disabilities receive support and individualized instruction to help them meet behavioral expectations (WAC 392-172A-03110).

Federal and state guidance is written for schools and can help families too

This article includes links to various federal and state guidance documents that are written primarily to help school leaders follow laws that protect the rights of students with disabilities. Families and community members can refer to this guidance and work to help ensure that their local schools follow the law. When this does not happen, families and community members can use the dispute resolution process and incorporate federal and state guidance to support their advocacy efforts.

Dispute Resolution options related to IEP process are described in Procedural Safeguards. Dispute Resolution options when there are civil rights issues are described in the Section 504 Notice of Parent Rights. Both links connect to places where these documents are downloadable in various languages.

Key guidance and legal protections

Here are key state and national resources related to school discipline:

Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides information about Discipline Procedures for Students Eligible to Receive Special Education Services.

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) within the US Department of Education issued a guidance letter July 19, 2022, that describes federal work underway to improve behavioral supports and reduce use of disciplinary removal nationwide. OSEP’s Dear Colleague Letter includes links to a Q and A document about disciplinary requirements and A Guide for Stakeholders, describing best practices to support behavior.

Also in July 2022, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance about the rights of students with behavioral health needs. Available in multiple languages, the downloadable booklet is titled: Supporting Students with Disabilities and Avoiding the Discriminatory Use of Student Discipline under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

In a Dear Colleague letter published with OCR’s guidance on July 19, 2022, Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, calls out problems related to disability discrimination. “An important part of [OCR’s] mission is to ensure that students are not denied equal educational opportunity or subjected to discrimination based on their disabilities, including through the improper use of discipline,” Sec. Lhamon wrote.

Behavior support is part of FAPE

The right to appropriate behavioral supports is part of a student’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), which requires services and supports designed to meet identified needs so students with disabilities can access what non-disabled students access without individualized services.

OCR’s guidance includes information about what schools must provide to serve FAPE, including the responsibility to offer regular and/or special education, and related aids and services, that “are designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met.”

Qualified personnel are required for FAPE: “Schools must take steps to ensure that any staff responsible for providing a student with the services necessary to receive FAPE understand the student’s needs and have the training and skills required to implement the services. A school’s failure to provide the requisite services is likely to result in a denial of FAPE.”

FAPE violations under Section 504 relate to fundamental disability rights. Denial of those rights is considered disability discrimination, which OCR defines as “excluding, denying benefits to, or otherwise discriminating against a student based on their disability, including by denying them equal educational opportunity in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.”

Federal framework for student rights

Families can empower themselves to understand these rights and resources and advocate for their students by learning the federal framework for school-based services:

  • Students who receive accommodations and supports through a Section 504 Plan have anti-discrimination protections from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) have Section 504 protections and specific rights and protections from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Section 504 protects all students with disabilities within the public school system, including those with Section 504 Plans, those with IEPs, and those with known or suspected disability conditions that make schools responsible to evaluate them. The right to a non-discriminatory evaluation is protected by Section 504 and by IDEA’s Child Find Mandate.
  • Section 504 applies to elementary and secondary public schools (including public charter schools and state-operated schools), public school districts, State Educational Agencies (OSPI is the SEA for WA State), and private schools and juvenile justice residential facilities that receive federal money directly or indirectly from the Department of Education. Private schools that do not receive federal funding are not bound by IDEA.
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. According to its July 2022 guidance, OCR can investigate complex complaints: “OCR is responsible for enforcing several laws that prohibit schools from discriminating based on disability; race, color, or national origin; sex; and age. A student may experience multiple forms of discrimination at once. In addition, a student may experience discrimination due to the combination of protected characteristics, a form of discrimination often called intersectional discrimination. Some instances of intersectional discrimination may stem from a decisionmaker acting upon stereotypes that are specific to a subgroup of individuals, such as stereotypes specific to Black girls that may not necessarily apply to all Black students or all girls. When OCR receives a complaint alleging discrimination in the use of discipline under more than one law, OCR has the authority to investigate and, where appropriate, find a violation under any law in its jurisdiction.” [emphasis added]
  • Contact the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at OCR@ed.gov or by calling 800-421-3481 (TDD: 800-877- 8339).

What is exclusionary discipline?

Any school disciplinary action that takes a student away from their regularly scheduled placement at school is called exclusionary discipline. Out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and in-school suspensions count. Shortened school days and informal removals—like when the school calls parents to have a child taken home for their behavior—are forms of exclusionary discipline unless there is a school-and-family meeting in which an alternate placement or schedule is chosen to best meet the needs of the student. 

If such a meeting does take place, the school and family team are responsible to make decisions about program and placement that are individualized. Schools may not unilaterally decide, for example, that all students with certain behavioral characteristics should attend a specific school or program. According to OCR, “A school district would violate Section 504 if it had a one-size-fits-all policy that required students with a particular disability to attend a separate class, program, or school regardless of educational needs.”

Seclusion and restraint may not be used as punishment

Seclusion (also called isolation) and/or restraint are emergency responses when there is severe and imminent danger. Federal guidance emphasizes that these practices may never be used as punishment or discipline:

“OSEP is not aware of any evidence-based support for the view that the use of restraint or seclusion is an effective strategy in modifying a child’s behaviors that are related to their disability. The Department’s longstanding position is that every effort should be made to prevent the need for the use of restraint or seclusion and that behavioral interventions must be consistent with the child’s rights to be treated with dignity and to be free from abuse.”

More information about isolation and restraint is included later in this article.

Exclusionary discipline may violate FAPE, including for students not yet receiving services

A student with an identified disability may be suspended for a behavioral violation that is outlined in district policy. The student “code of conduct” usually explains what it takes to get into trouble.

Schools are limited in their ability to exclude students from school because of behaviors that “manifest” (arise or express) from disability. Federal and state guidance is for schools to suspend students only if there are significant safety concerns.

If a student with disabilities has unmet needs and is consistently sent home instead of helped, the school may be held accountable for not serving the needs. According to OCR, disability discrimination can include instances when there is reasonable suspicion that a disability condition is impacting behavior, but the student is not properly evaluated to see if they are eligible for services and what services they may need.

The right to evaluation is protected by Child Find, which is an aspect of the IDEA, as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. OCR guidance includes information that schools may need to train or hire experts to meet federal requirements: “To ensure effective implementation of its evaluation procedures, a school may need to provide training to school personnel on when a student’s behaviors, or other factors, indicate the need for an evaluation under Section 504.”

A student with a disability that impacts their learning is entitled to FAPE. Again, FAPE stands for Free Appropriate Public Education. FAPE is protected by Section 504 and by IDEA. FAPE is what a student with disabilities is entitled to receive and what schools are responsible to provide.

OCR provides these places to look for data demonstrating a need to evaluate and determine whether a student is entitled to the rights and protections of FAPE:  

  • Information or records shared during enrollment
  • Student behaviors that may harm the student or another person
  • Observations and data collected by school personnel
  • Information voluntarily provided by the student’s parents or guardians
  • The school’s own disciplinary or other actions indicating that school personnel have concerns about the student’s behavior, such as frequent office referrals, demerits, notes to parents or guardians, or use of restraints or seclusion
  • Information that a previous response to student behavior by school personnel resulted in repeated or extended removals from educational instruction or services, or that a previous response (such as a teacher’s use of restraints or seclusion) traumatized a student and resulted in academic or behavioral difficulties

Schools are required to take assertive action to evaluate a student and/or reconsider the services plan if the student is consistently missing school because of their behavior. OCR guidance clearly states that schools cannot use resource shortages as a reason to deny or delay an evaluation:

“OCR would likely find it unreasonable for a district to delay a student’s evaluation because it does not have sufficient personnel trained to perform the needed assessments and fails to secure private evaluators to meet the need. In addition, the fact that a student is doing well academically does not justify the school denying or delaying an evaluation when the district has reason to believe the student has a disability, including if the student has disability-based behavior resulting in removal from class or other discipline (e.g., afterschool detentions).”

Parents can request an evaluation any time

OCR’s guidance states that parents can request an evaluation at public expense any time. “Section 504 does not limit the number of evaluations a student may reasonably request or receive. The student’s parent or guardian is entitled to notice of the school’s decision and may challenge a denial of their request under Section 504’s procedural safeguards.”

Despite a parent’s right to request an evaluation, the school is responsible to evaluate a child if there is reason to believe a disability is disrupting education: “While parents or guardians may request an evaluation, and schools must respond to any such requests, the responsibility to timely identify students who may need an evaluation remains with the school.”

Procedural Safeguards include detail about the evaluation process and the right to an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) if the district’s evaluation is incomplete or if parents disagree with its conclusions or recommendations.

Manifestation Determination

Schools are required to document missed educational time and meet with family to review the student’s circumstances. These requirements are related to the provision of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) for students with disabilities. If the time a student with disabilities is removed from their academic placement for discipline adds up to 10 days, the school is required to host a specific meeting called a Manifestation Determination.

OCR guidance states that discussion about what happened and what to do next must be made by a team of people knowledgeable about the student’s needs and disability: “If a single person, such as a principal who is in charge of the school’s general disciplinary process for all students, alone determined whether a student’s behavior was based on the student’s disability, such a unilateral decision would not comply with Section 504.”

The Manifestation Determination requirement includes informal or “off book” removals from school. For example, if the school calls and directs parents to take a child home because of behavior, that missed educational time counts toward the 10 days. Parents can request paperwork to document the missed time to ensure compliance with this requirement. OCR guidance includes this statement:

“OCR is aware that some schools informally exclude students, or impose unreasonable conditions or limitations on a student’s continued school participation, as a result of a student’s disability-based behaviors in many ways, such as:

  • Requiring a parent or guardian not to send their child to, or to pick up their child early from, school or a school-sponsored activity, such as a field trip;
  • Placing a student on a shortened school-day schedule without first convening the Section 504 team to determine whether such a schedule is necessary to meet the student’s disability-specific needs;
  • Requiring a student to participate in a virtual learning program when other students are receiving in-person instruction;
  • Excluding a student from accessing a virtual learning platform that all other students are using for their instruction;
  • Informing a parent or guardian that the school will formally suspend or expel the student, or refer the student to law enforcement, if the parent or guardian does not: pick up the student from school; agree to transfer the student to another school, which may be an alternative school or part of a residential treatment program; agree to a shortened school day schedule; or agree to the use of restraint or seclusion; and
  • Informing a parent or guardian that the student may not attend school for a specific period of time or indefinitely due to their disability-based behavior unless the parent or guardian is present in the classroom or otherwise helps manage the behavior (e.g., through administering medication to the child).

“Depending on the facts and circumstances, OCR could find that one or more of these practices violate Section 504.”

Under Section 504, schools are bound to consider disability-related factors through Manifestation Determination if the disciplinary removal is for more than 10 consecutive school days or when the child is sub­jected to a series of removals that constitute a pattern. For state-specific information, OSPI provides a guidance form for Section 504 circumstances.

For a student with an IEP, removal from regularly scheduled classes for more than 10 days per school year may constitute a “change of placement” if there is a pattern to the removals and the behaviors are similar in nature (WAC 392-172A-05155). In those situations, a Manifestation Determination meeting is held to determine whether the disciplinary removals resulted from the school’s failure to implement the IEP. OSPI provides a guidance form for IEP circumstances.

Note that Manifestation Determination is a distinct process for students with known or suspected disabilities and is separate from general education disciplinary hearings or procedures. Under federal requirements (IDEA Sec. 300.530 (e)), the behavior must be determined to manifest from disability if the IEP Team determine that the behavior was:

  1. Caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the student’s disability
  2. The direct result of the school’s failure to implement the IEP, including situations where the child did not consistently receive all services required by their IEP

A behavior support plan is best practice

During a Manifestation Determination meeting, a student’s circumstances and services are reviewed. An IEP can be amended to provide additional support and a Functional Behavioral Assessment is planned to gather information for a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). If the student has a BIP that isn’t working, the plan can be changed. See PAVE’s video: Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process.

For students without IEP services, a Manifestation Determination meeting can initiate or expedite an educational evaluation in addition to an FBA. If the school district knew or should have known that the student needed special education services and did not initiate an evaluation, Child Find violations may apply.

Family members are included in this process. According to WAC 392-172A-05146, “If the school district, the parent, and relevant members of the student’s IEP team determine the conduct was a manifestation of the student’s disability, the school district must take immediate steps to remedy those deficiencies.”

If the conduct is determined to be unrelated to disability, then school personnel may use general education discipline procedures. The school must still provide any special education services that the student has already been found to need. The IEP team decides the appropriate alternative setting and special education services to meet the student’s needs while suspended.

A shortened school day may be a suspension

If the school reduces a student’s schedule because of difficult-to-manage behaviors, the change could be considered a suspension and the missed educational time could count toward a Manifestation Determination process. OSPI provides this information in a Technical Assistance Paper (TAP #2):

“A decision to shorten a student’s school day in response to a behavioral violation would constitute a suspension under general state discipline regulations (WAC 392-400-025).

“District authorities should not use a shortened school day as an automatic response to students with challenging behaviors at school or use a shortened day as a form of punishment or as a substitute for a BIP [Behavior Intervention Plan]. An IEP team should consider developing an IEP that includes a BIP describing the use of positive behavioral interventions, supports, and strategies reasonably calculated to address the student’s behavioral needs and enable the student to participate in the full school day.”

OSEP’s federal guidance explains that a shortened school day is a disciplinary removal unless the IEP team has explored all options to serve the student with a full day and agreed that a shortened day is the only adequate option so the student can benefit from their Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE):

“[The] practice of shortening a child’s school day as a disciplinary measure could be considered a denial of FAPE if the child’s IEP Team does not also consider other options such as additional or different services and supports that could enable a child to remain in school for the full school day.”

OCR’s guidance points out that a shortened school day is an example of a significant change of placement, and that placement changes require a re-evaluation process: “Section 504 requires reevaluations on a periodic basis, in addition to a subsequent evaluation before any significant change in placement.”

A school’s decision to keep a student out of school is separate from a student or family decision for the student to stay home to care for their mental health. In 2022, the Washington Legislature passed HB 1834, which establishes a student absence from school for mental health reasons as an excused absence.

Alternative learning options for longer suspensions

If a student’s behavioral violation includes weapons or illegal substances, or causes severe injury, the school can remove the student from their placement for longer than 10 days, regardless of their disability. Those situations are referred to as “Special Circumstances.”

Some Section 504 protections do not apply when a school disciplines a student with a disability because of current drug or alcohol use. According to OCR, “Schools may discipline a student with a disability who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs or the use of alcohol to the same extent that the school disciplines students without disabilities for this conduct.”

OCR goes on to say that Section 504 protections apply to students who:

  1. Successfully complete a supervised drug rehabilitation program or are otherwise rehabilitated successfully and no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs
  2. Are participating in a supervised rehabilitation program and are no longer using
  3. Were erroneously [incorrectly] regarded as engaging in substance use

Under Special Circumstances, a student might shift into an Interim Alternative Educational Setting (IAES) for up to 45 school days, regardless of whether the violation was caused by disability related behaviors. The following information from federal law uses a couple of acronyms not previously defined in this article:

  • SEA is a State Educational Agency (OSPI is the SEA for Washington State)
  • LEA is a Lead Educational Agency, which in our state refers to a school district

Under federal law (34 C.F.R. § 300.530(g)):

School personnel may consider removing a child with a disability from their current placement and placing them in an IAES for not more than 45 school days without regard to whether the behavior is determined to be a manifestation of the child’s disability if the child:

  1. Carries a weapon to or possesses a weapon at school, on school premises, or to or at a school function under the jurisdiction of an SEA or an LEA
  2. Knowingly possesses or uses illegal drugs or sells or solicits the sale of a controlled substance, while at school, on school premises, or at a school function under the jurisdiction of an SEA or an LEA
  3. Has inflicted serious bodily injury upon another person while at school, on school premises, or at a school function under the jurisdiction of an SEA or an LEA

The temporary setting (IAES) is chosen by the IEP team and must support the student’s ongoing participation in the general education curriculum as well as progress toward IEP goals. As appropriate, the student’s behavior is assessed through the Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA—see below) while they are learning in the alternate setting, so a behavior plan is in place to prevent future problems when the student returns to their regular schedule and classes.

If the school pursues a threat/risk assessment, they are required to safeguard a student’s right to be treated in non-discriminatory ways. According to OCR, “Schools can do so by ensuring that school personnel who are involved in screening for and conducting threat or risk assessments for a student with a disability are aware that the student has a disability and are sufficiently knowledgeable about the school’s FAPE responsibilities so that they can coordinate with the student’s Section 504 [or IEP] team….

“For example, the Section 504 [or IEP] team can provide valuable information about: the nature of the student’s disability-based behaviors and common triggers; whether the student has been receiving behavioral supports, and, if so, the effectiveness of those supports; and specific supports and services that may be able to mitigate or eliminate the risk of harm without requiring exclusion from school.”

Schools are required to support behavior and work with families

Schools are required to provide education and support before resorting to discipline for children who struggle with behavior because of their impairments. According to OCR, “Individualized behavioral supports may include, among other examples: regular group or individual counseling sessions, school social worker services, school-based mental health services, physical activity, and opportunities for the student to leave class on a scheduled or unscheduled basis to visit a counselor or behavioral coach when they need time and space to ‘cool down’ or self-regulate.”

Regardless of whether the student has previously qualified for services, best practice is for the school to conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) following a significant disciplinary action. The FBA is used to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), which helps a child learn expected behaviors and prevent escalations. The BIP identifies target behaviors that disrupt learning and calls out “antecedents,” conditions or events that occur first—before the targeted behavior. A BIP supports “replacement” behavior so a student can develop skills for expected learning behaviors.  

Schools are guided by the state to use best practices when evaluating and serving students with special needs. OSPI’s website is k12.wa.us. A page called Model Forms for Services to Students in Special Education has links to downloadable forms schools use to develop IEPs, Section 504 Plans, and more.

Here are links to OSPI’s model forms for:

When a student’s behaviors aren’t working, there’s an opportunity for learning

In addition to a BIP, a student receiving special education services whose behavior impedes their learning may need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) to support skill-development in an area of education called Social Emotional Learning (SEL). If targeted SEL instruction is needed, the student will have specific IEP goals to support the learning.

Another way that an IEP can support students with behavioral disabilities is through related services. Counseling and other behavioral health supports can be written into an IEP as related services. When included in a student’s IEP as educationally necessary for FAPE, a school district is responsible to provide and fund those services. If they participate in the state’s School-Based Health Services (SBHS) program, school districts can receive reimbursement for 70 percent of the cost of behavioral health services for students who are covered by Medicaid and on an IEP.

All students access behavioral supports when schools use Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS). Families can ask school staff to describe their MTSS structure and how students receive support through Tier 1 (all students), Tier 2 (targeted groups), and Tier 3 (individualized support). An element of MTSS is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which also supports students across levels of need.

Keep in mind that participation in MTSS does not replace a school’s responsibility to evaluate a student with a known or suspected disability that is impacting their access to education.

PAVE provides resources to support families and schools:

Washington is a local control state

As a local control state, individual school districts determine their specific policies related to disciplinary criteria and actions. According to OSPI, school districts are required to engage with community members and families when updating their discipline policies, which must align with state and federal regulations.

When a student is suspended, the school is required to submit a report to the family and the state. That report must include an explanation of how school staff attempted to de-escalate a situation before resorting to disciplinary removal. OSPI provides information for schools and families related to state guidance and requirements. A one-page introductory handout for parents is a place to begin.

In general, Washington rules:

  • Encourage schools to minimize the use of suspensions and expulsions and focus instead on evidence-based, best-practice educational strategies
  • Prohibit schools from excluding students due to absences or tardiness
  • Require schools to excuse absences related to mental health (HB 1834)
  • Limit use of exclusionary discipline for behaviors that do not present a safety threat
  • Prohibit expulsion for students in kindergarten through grade four (children in that age range cannot be excluded from their classroom placements/suspended for more than 10 cumulative days per academic term)
  • Require schools to provide educational access while a student is suspended or expelled

Schools must provide educational services during a suspension

State law requires that all suspended and expelled students have an opportunity to receive educational services (RCW 28A.600.015). According to the Washington Administrative Codes (WAC 392-400-610) educational services provided in an alternative setting must enable the student to:

  • Continue to participate in the general education curriculum
  • Meet the educational standards established within the district
  • Complete subject, grade-level, and graduation requirements

Guidance related to isolation and restraint

The state has specific rules related to the use of isolation (sometimes called seclusion) and restraint, which are implemented only when a student’s behavior poses an imminent likelihood of serious bodily harm and are discontinued when the likelihood of serious harm has passed. Isolation and restraint are not used as a form of standard discipline or aversive intervention.

In simpler words, isolation and restraint are an emergency action for safety and cannot be used to punish a student. The isolation or restraint ends the moment the safety threat has passed, not after everything is all better.

The Washington State Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO) offers an online resource page that details state guidance related to isolation and restraint. Included is this statement:

“Schools in Washington State are not allowed to use restraint or isolation as a form of discipline or punishment, or as a way to try to correct a child’s behavior. Restraint and isolation are only allowed as emergency measures, to be used if necessary, to keep a student or others safe from serious harm. They can continue only as long as the emergency continues.”

School districts are required to collect and report data on the use of restraint and isolation. That data is posted on OSPI’s website as part of the School Safety Resource Library. 

Emergency Response Protocol (ERP)

If emergency responses and/or severe disciplinary actions become frequent, schools might ask the parent/guardian to sign an Emergency Response Protocol (ERP) for an individual student. Families are not required to sign this.

The ERP explains what the school’s policies are related to isolation and restraint and what the training requirements are for staff authorized to conduct isolation and restraint. Parents can request a copy of the district’s general education policies on this topic. The ERP can include a statement about how parents are contacted if the school uses isolation or restraint.

Reporting requirements for disciplinary removal

Schools are required to provide a report to the parent/guardian and to the state any time disciplinary or emergency actions are taken.

The Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-400-455) describes what is required in a notice to students and parents when a student is suspended or expelled from school:

  • Initial notice. Before administering any suspension or expulsion, a school district must attempt to notify the student’s parents, as soon as reasonably possible, regarding the behavioral violation.
  • Written notice. No later than one school business day following the initial hearing with the student in WAC 392-400-450, a school district must provide written notice of the suspension or expulsion to the student and parents in person, by mail, or by email. The written notice must include:
    • A description of the student’s behavior and how the behavior violated the school district’s policy adopted under WAC 392-400-110;
    • The duration and conditions of the suspension or expulsion, including the dates on which the suspension or expulsion will begin and end;
    • The other forms of discipline that the school district considered or attempted, and an explanation of the district’s decision to administer the suspension or expulsion;
    • The opportunity to receive educational services during the suspension or expulsion under WAC 392-400-610;
    • The student’s and parents’ right to an informal conference with the principal or designee under WAC 392-400-460;
    • The student’s and parents’ right to appeal the suspension or expulsion under WAC 392-400-465, including where and to whom the appeal must be requested;
    • For a long-term suspension or expulsion, the opportunity for the student and parents to participate in a reengagement meeting under WAC 392-400-710
  • Language assistance. The school district must ensure the initial and written notices required under this section are provided in a language the student and parents understand, which may require language assistance for students and parents with limited-English proficiency under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Reporting requirements for isolation/restraint

The state has similar reporting requirements when a student is isolated or restrained at school. Following are statements from the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 28A.600.485):

“Any school employee, resource officer, or school security officer who uses isolation or restraint on a student during school-sponsored instruction or activities must inform the building administrator or building administrator’s designee as soon as possible, and within two business days submit a written report of the incident to the district office. The written report must include, at a minimum, the following information:

  • The date and time of the incident
  • The name and job title of the individual who administered the restraint or isolation
  • A description of the activity that led to the restraint or isolation
  • The type of restraint or isolation used on the student, including the duration
  • Whether the student or staff was physically injured during the restraint or isolation incident and any medical care provided
  • Any recommendations for changing the nature or amount of resources available to the student and staff members in order to avoid similar incidents”

The RCW also states that school staff “must make a reasonable effort to verbally inform the student’s parent or guardian within 24 hours of the incident and must send written notification as soon as practical but postmarked no later than five business days after the restraint or isolation occurred. If the school or school district customarily provides the parent or guardian with school-related information in a language other than English, the written report under this section must be provided to the parent or guardian in that language.”

Equity work in student discipline is ongoing

A graph that shows disparity in discipline is provided on OSPI’s website, which includes training and materials for schools to support improvements. “Like other states, Washington has experienced significant and persistent disparities in the discipline of students based upon race/ethnicity, disability status, language, sex and other factors,” OSPI’s website states.

“While overall rates of exclusionary discipline (suspension and expulsion) have declined over the last decade, significant disparities persist. These trends warrant serious attention from school districts, as well as OSPI, to work toward equitable opportunities and outcomes for each and every student.”

Tips to Help Parents Plan for the Upcoming School Year

A Brief Overview

  • By getting organized, you can plan ahead for fall and beyond. This article includes tips, resources, and information to help you get ready for a new school year. 
  • Keep in mind that schools are required to engage with families. PAVE provides an article about parent participation in special education process.
  • If you are tight on time and new to special education, here’s a place to do some basic training, with three short videos: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More.
  • If you feel lost in the dark about how any of this works, here’s an article designed for military transplants and helpful to anyone who needs an overview of disability service systems: Help for Military Families: Tips to Navigate Special Education Process in Washington State.

Full Article

Summer provides an opportunity to reset for the school year ahead. If your child has a disability, you may want to think about what went well or what could have gone better last year. By getting organized, you can plan ahead for fall and beyond. This article includes resources and information to help you get ready for a new school year. 

Locate and organize documents

Now is a good time to re-read important documents, such as your student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), Section 504 Plan, or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). Organize a place to store the most current copies. Whether you choose an electronic file or a physical folder, label everything with the school year and renewal dates so you can easily notice when something is due for an update.

Use a highlighter or choose another way to make notes as you read through these documents. PAVE provides an article to help: Steps to Read, Understand, and Develop an Initial IEP.

Do you have concerns about anything that’s included or missing from your student’s program or plan? Write down your concerns and plan to use these notes to organize your top priorities. When you have an organized list of your top concerns, save this list to share with the school so these points will be included in your next meeting’s agenda.

Keep in mind that you can request a meeting anytime you have concerns. During summer you may be able to meet with district staff even if school staff are unavailable. The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a resource directory with special educational staff at the state, regional, and district levels.

Many parents want to meet with teachers and other school staff a few weeks into a new school year to see how things are going and make sure services are on track to support good outcomes. Plan to schedule your meeting as soon as school staff are back in the building for the best chance to get a day/time that works well for you and the rest of the team.

Keep in mind that the school is required to support your participation in your student’s special education services program development and implementation. PAVE provides an article about the parent participation requirements of special education process.

Here are questions to consider as you review your child’s IEP, 504 Plan, or BIP

  1. Do the Present Levels of Performance describe your child in ways that are current and accurate? If no, you may want to request a new evaluation. PAVE provides a Sample Letter and information to help families seeking an evaluation.
  2. If your child has a 504 Plan but has never been formally evaluated, consider requesting a formal special education evaluation to make well-informed decisions about service needs. OSPI provides family-friendly guidance, downloadable in multiple languages, about Section 504 protections, plan development, and civil rights complaint options.
  3. Do IEP goals sound SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time appropriate), given the annual renewal date listed on the IEP’s cover page? PAVE provides an article to help families participate in goal-setting and progress monitoring.
  4. Does the Adverse Impact Statement list all the major ways that the student’s disability affects how they do in school? If not, does that important statement need to be rewritten? Is there enough evaluation data to write an accurate statement? If not, additional evaluations may be needed.
  5. Make sure the highlighted needs and the services match! Each area of need highlighted in the Adverse Impact Statement must be addressed through the services and accommodations being provided by the school.
  6. Is the program clearly written to show what skills the student is working on to support progress? For example, if a reading disability makes it hard for the student to keep up with their grade-level reading, does the program clearly describe the services and goal-setting/progress monitoring to make sure the student is getting better at reading?  
  7. Will each accommodation or modification work in real time to make sure the student has the support they need to access the classroom and curriculum? Keep in mind that accommodations and modifications are intended to meet the needs of each specific student in an individualized way. Cut-and-paste, generic accommodations are not best practice. See OSPI’s Model Forms for Section 504 Plan or for IEP. If the accommodations need work, make notes and plan to request a meeting.
  8. If there is a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), take a careful look at the target behaviors and replacement behaviors to decide whether you agree that the plan is built to support the student’s learning and skill-building. PAVE provides a video to help: Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process.
  9. Consider how behavior is going this summer and any insights you may wish to share. PAVE provides an article with Tips to Help Parents Reinforce Positive Behaviors at Home.

Mark your calendar with important dates

While you are checking deadlines, get out your calendar to mark any important dates. For example, the cover page of an IEP includes an annual renewal date. The IEP team, including you, needs to meet before that date to review the IEP and make any necessary changes. Make a note on the date and also about a month before that date to make sure you and the team plan your meeting with plenty of advance notice to meet everyone’s scheduling needs.

If something happens and you cannot attend before the deadline, keep in mind that your participation is a higher priority than the deadline. Your student’s IEP will not “lapse” or “expire” because of a meeting delay. That deadline is there to hold the school accountable, not to punish families if they need to delay a meeting.

If you want to request an additional meeting, mark your calendar to reach out to the district and school as soon as teachers are back at work to get your meeting on everyone’s calendar.

The cover page of an IEP lists the date of the most recent evaluation. A new evaluation is required every three years to guarantee ongoing eligibility and to ensure that services meet current needs. Note those dates on your calendar.

You can request a new evaluation anytime you have concerns about an unmet need that isn’t fully documented or understood. You also have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) from a provider outside the school district if you don’t agree with the school’s evaluation.

PAVE provides more information and a sample letter for requesting an IEE. As you review your student’s documents, consider whether requesting an evaluation is part of what you want to do. Evaluation requests must always be in writing, and schools are responsible to provide forms to support written requests.

Review the school’s calendar and make a note of parent conferences and other important dates. If your student will be a graduating senior, plan ahead for senior year activities and make sure to allow plenty of time to request any accommodations. You might mark your calendar in early January, for example, to call the school and ask about Commencement, the Senior Party, etc., and talk through what will need to happen for those events to be accessible to your student. More information to support families of transition-age youth is available from PAVE: School to Adulthood: Transition Planning Toolkit for High School, Life, and Work.

Be sure to use a calendar that you check regularly to keep track of this important information!

Consider whether behaviors need to be addressed

A Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) often needs to be rewritten in a new school year because of changes in staffing and environment. Consider whether you want to request a fresh Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) early in the new school year to ensure your child gets a fresh start on the year with supports designed to match current needs.

See PAVE’s training video: Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process. Mark your calendar to send an FBA request letter right away if that is something you want to happen when schools reopen in the fall. 

If your child has experienced discipline and/or isolation and restraint in previous school years, summer is a good time to review state and district policies related to discipline. PAVE provides an article: What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School.

Ask for a copy of the district’s student handbook so you clearly understand what the codes of conduct are for expected student behavior and what might be grounds for a suspension or expulsion. Plan to review the rules with your child in a developmentally appropriate way, and do your best to check for understanding. If there are rules you don’t think your child will be able to understand or follow, plan to discuss those challenges with school staff.

Keep in mind that if your student is sent home from school because of behavior, they are being suspended. The school is required to file paperwork with the state and share that paperwork with you. PAVE provides an on demand training: Behavior and Discipline in Special Education: What to do if the School Calls Because of a Behavior Incident.

Make notes about summer regression to talk about ESY for next year

If you notice that your child’s emerging skills are lagging during the break from school, write down details about what you observe. When school resumes, pay attention to how quickly or if those skills return. This data is important as part of a discussion with the school about Extended School Year (ESY), which is a special education service provided outside of regular school hours for eligible students. See PAVE’s article for more information: ESY Helps Students Who Struggle to Maintain Skills and Access FAPE.

Consider how your child with disabilities is included with non-disabled peers

Special education laws require education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate to meet the needs of each student. LRE requires that students with disabilities get the supplementary aids and supports they need so their inclusion is equitable. Keep in mind that equity doesn’t mean equal: It means people get the support they need to have the same opportunities.

Washington State leaders are well aware that our state is underperforming in its ability to include students with disabilities in general education. To support more inclusive schools in Washington, the State Legislature provided OSPI with $25 million for the 2019-21 biennium and $12 million for the 2021-23 biennium to provide educators with professional development opportunities in support of inclusionary practices across the state. Families can learn more about the Inclusionary Practices Professional Development Project on OSPI’s website.

Parents can support their child’s inclusion by considering how services might be delivered in the general education setting. Bringing specific ideas into an IEP meeting might generate discussion for significant shifts toward more meaningful and consistent inclusion. Here are some resources you can review to prepare for those discussions with the school:

Write an informal letter to your student’s teachers

Before the new school year gets going, consider what you most want your child’s teachers to understand or remember.

  • Is there something you say at home to help your child stay calm or refocus?
  • Is there a behavioral intervention that’s working well this summer?
  • Is there something unique about your child that isn’t obvious until you get to know them better?
  • What do you most want to share to help teachers understand and support your child?
  • Are there really important points in the IEP, 504 Plan, or Behavior Intervention Plan that you want to call out?

All of these points can be included in a short letter or email you share with teachers at the start of the school year. If you’re not comfortable writing, consider making a short video to share.

Enjoy time with your children

Summer can fly by, especially in the Northwest. Getting ready for fall is important, but so is enjoying the sunshine, swimming pools, hiking trails, camping, games, or whatever makes summer special for your family. Relish time to do something that everyone enjoys and notice how you feel. If something feels challenging next year, you can tap back into the feelings you found during a special summer moment to remember what can go well. Teachers want to know those highlights too!

PAVE provides an article, with links to self-care videos: Self-Care is Critical for Caregivers with Unique Challenges.

PAVE works all year and is happy to help. If you click Get Help and fill out a request for individualized assistance, we will contact you by phone and/or email and schedule time to discuss your specific questions.

More homework for extra credit!

PAVE provides a variety of on demand training videos and articles to support parents in better understanding special education rights, process, and family involvement. Here is some additional summer homework to support your learning:

Tips to Organize Your Child’s Medical and School Documents

A Brief Overview

  • Keeping track of important documents for your child’s health can save you time and give you less stress.
  • Take advantage of technology! If you choose to build a digital storage system, integrating it with your smart phone will make it easy to share information on-the-go with doctors, day care providers, school staff, and other professionals.
  • Plan a grab-and-go handout, notebook, or phone app to make it easy to find and share critical information during an emergency.
  • Read on for information about how to get started!

Full Article

Care planning and a well-organized system to keep track of important documents can save time and create comfort during uncertain times. This article provides some tips for building a “care notebook,” which might be a three-ring binder, an accordion file, or a portable file box—whatever makes sense for your organizational style and the types of materials you need to sort.

A portable Care Notebook can include the most current versions of medical and/or school documents, while older files can be archived separately. Here are some examples of formal documents you might organize:

  • Medical paperwork: diagnoses, assessments, surgeries, medications, provider contacts
  • School paperwork:  Individualized Education Program (IEP), Section 504 Plan, assessments, meeting notifications, progress notes, correspondence, telephone logs
  • Personal care notes: hygiene routines and concerns, food preferences and issues, sleep schedules and challenges
  • Community access: transportation needs, hobbies, clubs, activities

Click to print out the infographic above

Consider what else to include, such as business cards and contacts, a call log, a calendar, emergency/crisis instructions, prescription information, history, school schedule…

Each primary category can be a section of a large notebook or its own notebook. Consider how portable the notebook needs to be and where you might take it or share it. Will the size and shape be practical for where you plan to go? Do you need more than one notebook or system?

One way to make the most current medical information more mobile is to use an app on your phone or tablet. Here are two options:

  • Specifically for an iPad or iPhone and available through Apple, My Health Tracker was developed through Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University.
  • Available for android phones through Google Play, MyCookChildren’s provides categories and ways to take pictures of documents and/or store information that you enter.

Both mobile apps help you track medication, care needs, illnesses, and appointments. Having this information in one place is especially helpful when you are working with specialists and medical providers from different medical groups that use different calendar and records systems.

Another way to maintain records and information is to create a digital “notebook” on a personal computer. You might build folders just like you would in a physical notebook. Dr. Hempel Digital Network provides 10 health-record applications with options that combine electronic medical records with telehealth capabilities. Other applications work with cellular phones. Here are three: MTBC PHRMedical Records, and Medfusion Plus.

Keep emergency information handy and easy to clean

A small “on the go” handout might be helpful for critical care appointments or emergencies. A laminated handout or a page tucked into a protective sleeve will be easier than a large notebook to disinfect after being in public. Depending on a child’s needs, caregivers might create multiple copies or versions of an on-the-go handout for easy sharing with daycare providers, school staff, babysitters, the emergency room, camp counselors or others who support children.

Key information for a quick look could include:

  • medications and dosages
  • doctors and contact information
  • emergency contacts—and whom to call first
  • allergy information
  • preferred calming measures
  • Plan for a caregiver’s illness

Another pull-out page or small notebook might include specific instructions about what to do if a caregiver gets sick. These questions could be addressed:

  • Who is the next designated caregiver?
  • Where can the child live?
  • What are specific daily care needs and medical care plans?
  • Is there a guardianship or a medical power of attorney?
  • Are there any financial or long-term plans that need sharing?

Step-by-Step Instructions

Building a Care Notebook does not have to be daunting. Most people start small and try different approaches until they find the best fit.  Here are a few ideas to start the process:

  • Choose a holding system that makes sense for your organizational style: notebook, accordion file, small file box, or a primarily digital system with limited “to-go” handouts.
  • Identify and label the document sections by choosing tools that fit your system: dividers, clear plastic document protectors, written or picture tabs, color coding, card holders for professional contacts, a hierarchy of folders on your computer…
  • Include an easy-to-access calendar section for tracking appointments.
  • Include a call log, where names are recorded (take time to spell full names correctly!) and phone numbers of professionals. Take notes to create a written record of a conversation. It is also practical to send a “reflective email” to clarify information shared in a call, then print the email, and tape it into the call log to create a more formal written record of the call.
  • A separate sheet of easy-reference information can be used to share with a caregiver in a new situation, such as daycare, doctor, camp, or a sleepover. Mommies of Miracles has an All About Me template that serves this purpose.
  • When appropriate, invite the child to participate.

Tools to help you begin

Quick and easy forms can help you start. Here are two options:

  1. Medical Home Portal Care Notebook and it comes in both English and Spanish
  2. Individual Healthcare and Emergency plans from PACER Center

Guidance to help build a more comprehensive care notebook is available from Family Voices of Washington. Printable forms can be done in stages and updated as needed to slide into a notebook or filing system. The templates include pull-out pages for Emergency Room or Urgent Care visits and forms to help organize medical appointments.

A child’s medical providers might help write a care plan and can provide specific contact information, medication lists and emergency contact procedures for each office. A school can provide copies of an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a Section 504 Plan, an Emergency Response Protocol, a Behavior Intervention Plan or other documents. If a child is in state-supported daycare (on location or in-home), staff can provide forms for emergency procedures and contacts.

You will thank yourself in the future!

Having information organized and ready can make it easier to apply for public services through the Social Security Administration, the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA), the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) or others. For military families, a Care Notebook can make transitions and frequent moves easier to manage.

A well-established organization system also can help a child transition toward adult life. Easy access to a list of accommodations can ease that first meeting with a college special services office or provide a key set of documents for requesting vocational rehabilitation/employment supports. Easy access to key medical records can be the first step to helping a child learn what medications they are taking and advocate for an adjustment with an adult provider

Additional resources for long-term planning include:

Tips to Help Parents Reinforce Positive Behaviors at Home

A Brief Overview

  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a strategy schools use to teach children expected behavior. Read on for PBIS strategies families can use at home.
  • A key PBIS principle is that punishment fails to teach what to do instead. Adults can direct children and youth toward better choices and interrupt escalation cycles by consistently teaching expected, skillful behaviors.
  • The easiest way to change a behavior is to point out what a person does right. Remember this catchy phrase, “5-and-1 gets it done,” to ensure five positive interactions for each negative interaction.
  • PAVE provides a video with key information to help families and schools analyze a child’s behavior and develop a positive behavior support plan: Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process.
  • If you come up with some great behavior support strategies this summer, be sure to share them with the school in the fall!

Full Article

Changes in routine and seasonal transitions can cause emotional upheaval for families. A few strategies, described below, might help families keep things chill this summer and beyond.

These ideas come from education, where research has helped teachers see the benefits from using Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). PBIS has been implemented in more than 26,000 U.S. schools. The PBIS framework has been shown to decrease disciplinary removals and improve student outcomes, including grades and graduation rates. When done well, PBIS provides positive social skills, communication strategies and “restorative justice,” (working it out instead of punishing) and may prevent 80-90 percent of problem behaviors.

Punishment does not teach

PBIS research highlights problems with punishments, which are called “aversive interventions.” Research shows that a punished child is likely to flip into an emotionally dysregulated state (fight/flight/freeze) that actually blocks learning. Chances are low that the child will know what to do next time because the punishment didn’t provide a learning opportunity.

PBIS teaches what to do instead—and how to do it. Adults who calmly direct a child toward a new way of problem-solving can interrupt or prevent an escalation and help the child make better and better choices moving forward.

Keep in mind that adults need to stay regulated to help children. PAVE provides resources to help adults work on their own self-control and support their children:

Behavior is a child’s attempt to communicate

Simple, consistent, predictable language is critical for teaching and reinforcing behavior, says Kelcey Schmitz, who works for the University of Washington School Mental Health Assessment, Research, and Training (SMART) Center.

“PBIS is a game changer for children and youth with behavior challenges and their teachers and caregivers,” Schmitz says. “In fact, everyone can benefit from PBIS. Behavior is a form of communication, and PBIS aims to reduce problem behavior by increasing appropriate behavior and ultimately improving quality of life for everyone. The same approaches used by schools to prevent problem behaviors and create positive, safe, consistent and predictable environments can be used by families at home.”

Schmitz, an MTSS training and technical assistance specialist, provides the following specific tips for creating a successful PBIS home environment.

Support Positive Behavior before there is a problem

PBIS is set up with three layers—called tiers—of support. The parent-child relationship is strengthened by loving and positive interactions at each tier.

Tier 1 support is about getting busy before there is a problem. Much like learning to wash hands to prevent getting sick, expected behavior is taught and modeled to prevent unexpected behaviors.  Parents can look at their own actions and choices and consider what children will see as examples of being respectful, responsible, and safe.

Tiers 2 and 3 are where adults provide more support for specific behaviors that are getting in the way of relationships or how the child or youth functions. In a school setting, Tier 2 is for students who need a social group or some extra teaching, practice, and reinforcement.

Tier 3 supports include a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) to find out why the behavior is occurring, and an individualized Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). PAVE provides a video: Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process.

Any student may access supports that include aspects of Social Emotional Learning at all three Tiers. At home, Tiers 2 and 3 naturally will be more blended and may include support from a community provider. Note that targeted interventions in Tiers 2-3 work best when Tier 1 is already well established.

Define, teach, and routinely acknowledge family expectations

  • Discuss how you want to live as a family and identify some “pillars” (important, building-block concepts) that represent what you value. Talk about what those pillars look and sound like in every-day routines. To help the family remember and be consistent, choose only 3-5 and create positive statements about them. Here are a few examples:
    • Speak in a respectful voice.
    • Be responsible for actions.
    • Be safe; keep hands, feet, and objects to self.
  • Identify a couple of “hot spots” to begin. Challenging behaviors often occur within routines.  Perhaps mornings or mealtimes create hot spots for the family. After discussing 1-2 ways to be respectful, responsible, and safe in the morning, teach what each looks like. Have fun with it! Set up “expectation stations” for practicing the plan and assign each family member one pillar to teach to the rest.
  • Behaviors that get attention get repeated. Notice when a child does the right thing and say something about each success: “I noticed you stopped to pick up your shoes in the hallway. Thanks for putting them away and keeping the walkway safe for others.” The easiest way to change a behavior is to point out what a person does right!
  • Remember this catchy phrase, “5-and-1 gets it done” to ensure five positive interactions for each negative interaction. When the expected behavior becomes routine, the reinforcement can fade away.

Create engaging and predictable routines

  • Children crave structure and routine. Adults may look forward to a relaxing evening or weekend, but kids often need regular activity and engagement. Consider that either the kids are busy, or the adults are busy managing bored kids!
  • Use visuals to create predictability. A visual schedule can display major routines of the day with pictures that are drawn, real photos or cut-outs from magazines. Create the schedule together, if possible.  Parents can ask a child to check the schedule – especially when moving from a preferred to non-preferred activity. It’s hard to argue with a picture!

Set the stage for positive behavior

  • Teach, pre-teach, and re-teach. Children need to learn behavior just like they learn colors and shapes. A quick reminder can help reinforce a developing skill: “When we get in the car, sit up, buckle up, and smile!”
  • Give transition warnings or cues to signal the end of one activity and the beginning of another: “In five minutes, it will be bath time.”
  • First/then statements set up a child for delayed gratification: “First take your bath; then we can play dolls.”
  • Focus on Go instead of Stop. Children often tune out words like NoDon’t and Stop and only hear the word that comes next, which is what an adult is trying to avoid. Tell a child what to do instead of what not to do: “Take your plate and put it in the sink.” Save Stop and No for dangerous circumstances that need a quick reaction.
  • Choices prevent power struggles: “Would you rather play for five more minutes or get in the bath now?”  “Feel free to choose the pink pajamas or the green ones.”

While these strategies may not eliminate all problem behaviors, they create consistency, predictability, and a more positive atmosphere. They teach new skills to help children get their needs met. The solid foundation will help even if challenging behaviors persist by creating a bedrock for additional layers of support.

Here are places to seek additional information:

Summer Daily Activity List – Taking care of YOU!

PAVE has created a suggested list of activities to follow every day this summer. Give yourself grace if you cannot do everything on the list. Nobody is keeping track. Your reward will be a healthy mindset! Type Mindfulness into the search bar on our website to find other articles and videos to support self-care for everyone in the family. 

List of Daily Activities for the Summer Print list on wapave.org

Click to view this list in PDF form

Start the day with a self-care routine – Do all!

  • Eat breakfast
  • Get dressed and take a shower if needed
  • Brush teeth and hair
  • Pick up your room and make your bed
  • Put away four things that are out of place

Take care of your home – Pick one!

  • Help to wash dishes
  • Load /unload the dishwasher
  • Vacuum one room
  • Empty the garbage
  • Do a new chore!

Build your body – Pick one or more!

  • Challenge yourself to do something outside for at least one hour
  • Go for a walk, walk a pet, or draw with sidewalk chalk
  • Help make a yummy healthy meal
  • Play with friends or swing at a nearby park
  • Tired or crabby? Take a nap!

Build your brain

Build your brain – Pick one or more!

  • Do a puzzle, play with Lego bricks, make music
  • Write a story, read a book (at least 1 chapter or 20 minutes)
  • Choose something else creative that you enjoy

Build up others – Pick one or more!

  • Write a letter to a friend or family member
  • Give a compliment
  • Find a small or large way to help someone: a little kindness goes a long way!