CA Dept. of Education


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Secondary Issues Archive 2012


Priscilla Harvell, M.A., CCC-SLP
Secondary and Speech/Language Specialist

Priscilla Harvell's expertise is supported by over 20 years in the field of Special Education as a Speech and Language Pathologist, Special Day Class Teacher and eight years as a Secondary Specialist for the Northern California Diagnostic Center.

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  • Bullying and Students with Special Needs

Dear Ask A Specialist Readers,

Did you know that children with disabilities are at an increased risk of being bullied?  Any number of factors:  physical vulnerability, social skill challenges, or intolerant environments, may increase the risk. Research suggests that some children with disabilities may even bully others as well.

On April 3, 2012 the U.S. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, unveiled the revitalized Stop Bullying website:

The Stop Bullying Website:

“The site encourages children, parents, educators, and communities to take action to stop and prevent bullying, and provides a map with detailed information on state laws and policies, interactive webisodes and videos for young people, practical strategies for schools and communities to ensure safe environments, and suggestions on how parents can talk about this sensitive subject with their children. The site also explores the dangers of cyberbullying and steps youngsters and parents can take to fight it.”

Special Resources to Help Children with Disabilities:

This website also provides special resources to help children with disabilities who are bullied or who bully others. The website illustrates how IEPs or Section 504 plans can be useful in designing specialized approaches for preventing and responding to bullying.  Additionally, the website discusses how civil rights laws protect students with disabilities against harassment. That is, when bullying is directed at a child because of his or her disability and it creates a hostile environment at school, bullying behavior may cross the line and become “disability harassment.”  Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the school must address the harassment.

Act Now!

We know that bullying can negatively impact a student’s ability to learn and threaten their physical and emotional safety at school. We know, too, that the best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts. The Stop Bullying website and the other websites listed in the Resources provide a number of actions school staff can take to make schools safer and prevent bullying.

We here at Ask A Specialist encourage you to do your part to help all students be safe at school.

Submitted by Ann England, Assistant Director, Diagnostic Center, Northern California on behalf of all the Ask A Specialist Contributors


  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

  • What can be done to increase students’ involvement and active participation in the whole transition process?


IDEA requires that students be invited to their IEP meetings if a purpose of the meeting will be the consideration of transition services. Many youth still do not attend their IEP meetings or seem disinterested. Families may be hesitant to have their sons and daughters at the meetings. What can be done to increase students’ involvement and active participation in the whole transition process?


Wehmeyer and Ward (1995) describe student involvement in the transition process as the heart of good transition services. The involvement of students increases ownership of their plans and responsibilities for carrying out their own wishes and dreams. Many of the current educational reform initiatives focus on outcome-oriented results, and literature supports the evidence that youth who are actively engaged and feel a sense of control over their lives have better outcomes as adults (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998).

When students are involved, they have opportunities to learn about their strengths and skills, as well as their disabilities and their impact on learning, careers, relationships, and independence. They can also learn about the accommodations they will need at a job, in further education, in relationships, and more. Speaking up for themselves is vital for success in adult environments.

In order for adults to fully engage youth in the assessment, planning, and the follow-through process, teens must believe that they are heard, that adults will respect them and have high expectations for them, that they will support their needs and let them take risks and fail, and that they will look at them as people in multiple environments. Youth will benefit from classes in student-led IEPs or self-determination, but they must also have experiences and opportunities in many settings that allow them this leadership role (Furney & Salembier, 2000).

The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) offers some suggestions for beginning this process in their Student Guide Set 1 ( which includes A Student’s Guide to the IEP and Technical Assistance Guide, Helping Students Develop Their IEPs. Some of NICHCY’s suggestions include:

  • Use a structured tool (NICHCY has audiotapes and booklets for students, parents, and teachers);
  • Photocopy each student’s IEP;
  • Read through the IEP and identify sensitive issues. Many teens have never read any assessment information, and this could be the first time that they are hearing their diagnosis and any test results. Make sure there is time to let them process the information and express their feelings;
  • Inform parents about student involvement and how their child will be reading their assessment and IEP information. This can be a challenge for parents who may have tried to keep this information hidden in order to protect their child from the “bad” news. Invite parents to be part of this process and to work with their child at home to talk about their future plans and ask questions about their disability;
  • Prepare any worksheets or materials that are appropriate to the level of disability. Some youth with more significant disabilities may need or want more visual ways to learn about themselves and express their wishes for the future;
  • Ask students how they think they learn and what things are difficult for them;
  • Talk about disabilities in terms that are specifically related to them;
  • Inform students of their rights under the law and also the intent of the law (to support their successful transition to adulthood and quality of life);
  • Discuss accommodations as they relate to learning, job skills, social skills, and independent living skills;
  • Discuss transition and its importance in planning for their future;
  • Practice the IEP meeting and role-play with a group of students.

Part of healthy development includes a sense of self, a sense of purpose and usefulness, a sense of achievement and independence, and a sense of belonging and caring. Involving students not only in the IEP meeting, but also with the entire process can help instill these essential components for healthy adult outcomes.

  • What are the ways to increase parent involvement in transition planning?


Parent involvement in the IEP planning process is required by IDEA. The amendments of 1997 strengthen the importance of parent involvement and require documentation of parent notification and attempts at gathering information from parents before an IEP is developed to address transition. What are the ways to increase parent involvement in transition planning?


Parents will be actively involved if the environment is welcoming and their input is heard, respected, and acted upon. They will need accurate and honest information ahead of time and presented in a manner that is understandable. Additional skills may include training in communication, collaboration, and advocacy.

The first thing to think about when developing policies and practices for increasing family involvement is to assess school climate and attitude toward family involvement. Ask the following questions:

  • Do staff and administrators believe that families have valuable information to share and are experts on their own children?
  • Do schools develop ways to invite families into the building for events, and also for feedback on policies, curricula, and evaluation?
  • Is there a physical place in the school in which families can meet with other families, school staff, or adult agency members?
  • Are teachers provided with education on how to work with families and given the time to communicate on a regular basis?

Parents and families often have a lot of emotion with regard to the transition planning process and having a child with a disability. This emotion will often surface during meetings. Staff who are comfortable with this emotion promote a comfort level for families.

Families frequently may not participate in IEP meetings, because they do not understand the information presented, nor do they sense that they have anything to contribute. Clear, accurate, family-friendly information about transition is usually very helpful at times like these. In addition, information about the impact a disability can have on learning, continuing education, working, having relationships, and developing autonomy is also very helpful. Schools can establish an ongoing parent group that meets for support and also for information. Including families in site-based councils, transition interagency committees, special education advisory committees, and any other school planning committees increases their knowledge of specific content areas, and also of the school and district-at-large.

Parents and families also need skills in how to communicate, collaborate, and advocate for their child. If they have access to ways of increasing those skills, either through a formal class or a program that matches parents with parents, it will support their active involvement. For many, if a parent is a good advocate for his or her child, it creates a “them versus us” relationship with professionals. Yet when professionals view themselves as advocates and parents as collaborators in identifying needs and services, there is reciprocity and equity in the relationship. Professionals are welcoming, and families will participate.

  • How can I get educators to understand the connection between educational strategies, standards-based educational goals and Transition goals so that they are viewed as a single, comprehensive strategy in preparing youth for adult life?


Hi Priscilla,

I am a vocational specialist in the public school (specifically high school) and am often invited to IEP/ITP meetings. I know that there are various educational strategies and standards-based educational goals and activities for youth. However, some special educators and families think about transition as an addition to these strategies and goals or as an extra set of goals and objectives from state and local standards and assessment requirements. How can I get them to understand the connection between educational strategies, standards-based educational goals and Transition goals so that they are viewed as a single, comprehensive strategy in preparing youth for adult life?

Thanks for your help,


Hi Angie,

This is actually a question I have addressed over the years (see Transition archives) and it constantly requires review. Transition should be thought of as a way to gather and document each student’s information that is part of the standards-based reform. Standards-based education is an outcome-based process with a goal of improving outcomes for all children and youth and raising the expectations of all. Transition for special education youth is also an outcome-based process that supports students in reaching their adult goals. Transition assessment and planning may involve teaching functional skills for daily living and helping youth to learn what accommodations work for them in the classroom and across environments. Supports for youth vary. For example:

  • Special educator provides/monitors accommodations or modify to curriculum so a student can be in general education 100% of the time.
  • Student’s program includes special education, community, or vocational-based programming a large part of the day in which increased opportunities are available to infuse academics through applied (hands-on) and contextual learning.

This approach works and can be referenced to the standards for all youth. The important aspect to remember is to start with the end goal in mind. Consider developing specific questions to guide the IEP team, parents, and student; a couple of examples may include:

  • What is the expected outcome for education? For example, if a specific student’s goal is to enter a two or four year college to study nursing, then the educational program will focus on academic skills in general education.
  • Will the stated standard and goal or activity that supports it lead to independence? For example, if a specific student is more cognitively challenged, are functional academic skills and communication goals a part of their IEP/ITP?

In addition, the transition needs of independent living skills, career and job development, recreation and community participation will be learned within the context of those academic courses or as part of the student’s involvement in a community/vocational learning opportunity. The transition goals and academic standards can be met both in activities at the school and outside the school. They should be documented on a student profile and on the IEP/ITP. Conversely, if the individual goal is to increase self-help and independent skills, or build job awareness, then the IEP/ITP and services may address an academic standard in reading through the job experience or a standard in math through a carpentry or computer class. The importance is that the individual goal for the student be aligned with the academic standards set for all youth within the school.

Check out the following resources for additional information regarding curriculum standards, goals/activities, and Transition to bring others on board with the connection between academic and work learning. Remember, these resources can work for ALL youth.

I sincerely hope this information helps you in conveying the importance of school and work connection in preparing youths for adulthood.

Priscilla Harvell