California Law Requires School Emergency Plans be Included in IEPs, but Many Still Don’t

By Jim Frazier, Public Policy Director, The Arc / UCP California Collaboration

Special education students can be at a higher risk during a disaster due to various factors. Most schools have crisis plans to support student safety in the event of an emergency, but less than half of schools have plans that address the complex needs of students with developmental disabilities. California Law requires emergency plans be included in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), but very few do.  

To mitigate the risks, it is crucial to have comprehensive emergency plans in place that address the specific needs of special education students. This includes training staff members, providing clear and accessible communication, ensuring appropriate accommodations, and conducting regular drills and practice sessions. Collaboration between educators, emergency management personnel, and families is essential to ensure the safety and well-being of students with disabilities during a disaster. 

Here are some reasons why they may be more vulnerable:

  1. Communication barriers: Special education students may have difficulty understanding and following instructions during an emergency situation. They may struggle to communicate their needs or understand the information provided by authorities.
  2. Mobility limitations: Some special education students may have physical disabilities or mobility limitations, making it challenging for them to evacuate or move quickly during a disaster.
  3. Sensory issues: Students with sensory processing disorders or sensitivities may become overwhelmed by the loud noises, bright lights, or chaotic environment during a disaster, which can hinder their ability to respond appropriately.
  4. Lack of awareness: Special education students may have limited knowledge or understanding of emergency procedures and may not be adequately prepared for a disaster. This lack of awareness can increase their vulnerability.
  5. Dependence on others: Many special education students rely on support staff or caregivers for assistance with daily activities. During a disaster, if these individuals are not available or unable to provide support, the students may struggle to navigate the situation independently.
  6. Evacuation challenges: Special education students may require specialized equipment, such as wheelchairs or communication devices, which can complicate the evacuation process. If proper accommodations are not in place, their safety may be compromised.

There are several reasons why schools may face barriers to implementing safety evacuation plans for students with disabilities, including:

  1. Lack of resources: Schools may argue that they do not have the necessary resources or staff to effectively implement and execute safety evacuation plans for students with disabilities. This could include a lack of trained personnel, specialized equipment, or funding to accommodate the unique needs of these students during an emergency.
  2. Legal concerns: Schools may be concerned about potential legal liabilities associated with implementing safety evacuation plans for students with disabilities. They may fear that if something goes wrong during an evacuation, they could be held responsible for any harm or injuries that occur.
  3. Time constraints: Developing and implementing safety evacuation plans for students with disabilities may require additional time and effort from school staff. Schools may argue that they already have a busy schedule and limited resources, making it difficult to allocate the necessary time and attention to create and practice these plans.
  4. Lack of awareness or understanding: Some schools may simply lack awareness or understanding of the specific needs and challenges faced by students with disabilities during emergency situations. This lack of knowledge may lead to reluctance to develop and implement appropriate safety evacuation plans.
  5. Resistance to change: Schools may resist implementing safety evacuation plans for students with disabilities due to a resistance to change or a belief that their current emergency procedures are sufficient for all students, regardless of their abilities.

It is important to note that while these reasons may explain why some schools have not yet created safety evacuation plans for students with disabilities, schools should strive to create inclusive and accessible emergency plans that address the unique needs of all students, including those with disabilities.  

For parents or caregivers wanting to learn more about adding an emergency plan in their child’s IEP, visit: 


Addressing the Significant Shortage of Special Education Teachers in California

By Jim Frazier, Public Policy Director, The Arc / UCP California Collaboration

The shortage of special education teachers in California is a significant issue. According to the California Department of Education (CDE), there has been a consistent shortage of special education teachers in the state for several years. The shortage is particularly acute in certain regions, such as rural areas and low-income communities.

Several factors contribute to the shortage of special education teachers in California. These include:

  • HIGH DEMAND: The number of students requiring special education services has been increasing in recent years, leading to a higher demand for special education teachers.
  • HIGH TURNOVER: Special education teachers often face challenging working conditions, including large caseloads, paperwork burdens, and limited resources. These factors contribute to high turnover rates, making it difficult to retain experienced teachers.
  • LACK OF QUALIFIED CANDIDATES: There is a limited pool of qualified candidates for special education teaching positions. Many individuals may choose to pursue other teaching specialties or careers due to the unique challenges and demands of special education.
  • CREDENTIALING REQUIREMENTS: Obtaining a special education teaching credential in California can be a lengthy and complex process, which may deter potential candidates from pursuing a career in special education.

The shortage of special education teachers has significant implications for students with disabilities, as it can lead to larger teacher-to-student class size ratios, reduced access to specialized services, and increased workload for existing teachers. Efforts are being made to address the shortage, including recruitment initiatives, financial incentives, and streamlined credentialing processes. However, the shortage remains a pressing issue in California’s education system.

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond will convene a “Teacher Recruitment Summit” on August 14, 2023, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the California Department of Education and is expected to announce the launch of a Statewide Recruitment Coalition. Click HERE to learn more about the summit and register to attend virtually.

If you have a passion for teaching children, contact the CDE for information on how to become a teacher

We look forward to working with CDE to find viable solutions to address the special education staffing shortage.

School Safety Emergency Plans for Students with Disabilities – An Overwhelming Concern for Families According to Survey

By Jim Frazier, Public Policy Director, The Arc / UCP California Collaboration

Believe it or not, there is no state requirement for K-12 schools to create and maintain a documented plan in emergency situations for students with disabilities, despite an overwhelming concern by parents of students with disabilities. As captured in a recent survey by The Arc & UCP California Collaboration, parents are extremely concerned about the safety of their child with a disability. Still, only 8% of the respondents have been provided documents about how their child with a disability would be accommodated in a school emergency, evacuation, or disaster.

Having an assessment of each child’s needs in the event of an emergency or disaster is common sense, and the plan should be known by teachers, and school administration and made readily accessible to first responders. This is why The Arc & UCP California Collaboration strongly supports SB 323 by Senator Portantino (D – Pasadena/Foothills), which proposes to require an emergency plan for students with disabilities.

Unfortunately, the bill encountered opposition and was amended, so schools are required to make only minimal changes to existing emergency plans.  The bill will be heard by Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi in the Assembly Education Committee when the legislature reconvenes, and we are urging the committee to amend the bill again to create stronger requirements and protections for our students with disabilities.

You can support this effort by clicking HERE to contact Assemblyman Muratsuchi by phone or an online form, and stating why you believe SB 323 should include more robust protections for students with disabilities and that California schools should be required to create a personalized emergency plan for those students.  Let’s make this happen!

California Students Pre-K Through Third Grade are Potentially Excluded from Inclusive Settings Due to Existing Barriers, According to New Report from The California Department of Education

California lags far behind the national average when getting students aged 3-5 into inclusive settings.  In our state, only 29% of those students are in an inclusive, regular early childhood program, compared to 40% nationwide.  Instead, California places a much higher percentage of young students in segregated settings.

new report by the California Department of Education, Special Education Division identifies several potential barriers to inclusion that exist in our schools and systems, including:

  • Mindsets and attitudes vary regarding the inclusion of students with disabilities and how to meet their needs in inclusive programs. These mindsets may influence decisions about resource allocation, including staffing, class size, and placements.
  • Multilingual learners may not have access to appropriate, culturally relevant, and sustaining curriculum or trained staff.
  • There are differences in local education agency (LEA) practices coordinating fiscal resources to create more inclusive preschool through third grade (P–3) environments for students with disabilities.
  • Meaningful differences exist in LEA fiscal practices for budgeting and planning and mindsets around budget priorities and which resources may be used to support inclusive special education programs.
  • LEA efforts to prepare general and special education teachers and administrators with shared/collaborative professional learning opportunities focused on best practices for inclusion vary due to fiscal and time constraints.

The report adds suggested recommendations to each barrier.  The Arc of California believes, however, that the most critical component in overcoming exclusion in schools is to make the voice of the parents heard throughout the educational system.

First-Ever Drop in National Student Scores Shows Students with Disabilities impacted Worst by Pandemic

By Jordan Lindsey, Executive Director, The Arc of California

Last week’s release of scores on what is known as the nation’s report card – the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed dismal but not unexpected findings, including the first-ever drop in math scores (seven points) for nine-year-old students, along with the steepest drop (five points) in reading scores since the 1980s. Tragically, students with disabilities demonstrated even more regression, dropping seven points in reading and eight points in math. In total, the drop in scores now equals the scores from the early 2000s. In other words, we have lost 20 years of educational progress due to the pandemic.

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a congressionally mandated program that is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics within the US Department of Education. It is an assessment given to 4th, 8th, and 12th graders nationwide. NAEP conducted a special assessment to see how students scores in reading and math changed from 2020 to 2022—the test was given to students, aged 9 (approximately 4th grade). Overall, lower-performing students had more significant drops in scores than students performing at higher levels.

The report does not address factors or reasons for the drop in scores (which may include the impacts of distance learning, mental health challenges, children who lost a parent due to COVID, financial strains due to a parent losing employment, or many other factors), nor does it address future impacts of lower scores. This article, however, from KQED presents many considerations of the implications.

The Arc of California is committed to improving our education system for students with disabilities and fighting for equity and inclusion in our schools. This report emphasizes the extra support that this generation will need and the advocacy efforts that will be needed to address long-term impacts.

Up-Coming Advisory Committee on Special Education Meeting – Important Updates

The Advisory Committee on Special Education (ACSE) is an advisory body required under federal law that provides recommendations and advice to the State Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Legislature, and the Governor in new or continuing area of research, program development, and evaluation of CA special education. The ACSE is scheduled to meet next Wednesday June 16, 2021. The Special Education Mental Health Committee (SEMHC)will meet from 9:00 – 9:30 to discuss several important issues including goals for the SEMHC, Mental Wellness Bill of Rights for All Children, Whole Child and Family Engagement in Community Schools., and Local Educational Agency Expansion of Medi-Cal Billing. The Operations and Planning Committee will discuss the annual report and in-person meetings. The full Commission will meet beginning at 10:00 and provide important updates regarding the California Special Education Governance and Accountability Study and California State Budget for Special Education. The ACSE will also hold their annual election for the Chair and Vice-Chair positions.

The proposed state budget seeks to make significant investments in special education which is particularly important as we know many special education students will need additional resources to help mitigate learning loss experienced as a result of distance learning and challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Public input is very important to the ACSE as it helps shape their recommendations to the Legislature and the Governor. To learn more about the upcoming meeting and how to engage in public comment visit:


Legislative Analyst’s Office – Special Education

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has provided fiscal and policy advice to the Legislature for 75 years. One of the most important responsibilities of the LAO is to analyze the annual Governor’s budget. In recent years, the office has presented a series of analyses from the beginning to the end of the budget process on overarching fiscal issues as well as specific departmental budget proposals and offered its recommendations for legislative action. The Governor’s 2021-22 proposed budget makes significant investments in special education including a $300 million on-going investment to be allocated to school districts based on the number of pre-school age children living in the district. The purpose of the funds are to supplement existing services, promote inclusive practices, and cover early intervention services.

Federal law requires school districts to begin providing special education services to all children with disabilities upon their third birthday, however, historically the state has had challenges meeting this requirement. The proposed funding is a step toward ensuring and expanding special education pre-school programs are sufficient to meet the needs of preschool age children with disabilities. The LAO report provides a good analysis of the funding challenges, the potential impact of the unrestricted funds, and recommendations for aligning special education funding through the existing special education base formula. The report can be read here:

Special Education in Charter Schools: Policy, Challenges, Opportunities and the Impact of COVID-19

Register Now

Do you want to learn about how laws and regulations apply to special education in charter schools? Join us for a free upcoming webinar on December 9.

This webinar will focus on special education in charter schools—specifically how federal, state, and local laws and regulations apply; the challenges that exist in these unique environments; and the ways that charter schools are working to address those challenges.

We will also look at how COVID-19 has impacted the way charter schools approach the education of students with disabilities during these challenging times.

Advisory Commission on Special Education

The Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE) provides recommendations and advice to the State Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Legislature, and the Governor related to research, program development, and evaluation of California’s special education system. The ACSE addresses issues related to student outcomes, incarcerated youth, positive behavioral interventions, interagency agreements, teacher credentialing, parity for families and integrated services. Last week the ACSE met and provided, among other updates, some great presentations related to inclusive practices in distance learning, and supporting the needs of families and students with disabilities that are English learners.

The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence is a statewide agency that provides specialized services to Local Education Agencies in order to help make sure the needs of students and families are met. They have a tremendous amount of free online training that is specific to distance teaching and learning. To learn more about the free resources visits:

Supporting Inclusive Practices gave a presentation that highlighted model inclusive practices during the pandemic and opportunities to address long-term barriers. The California Department of Education (CDE) created a workgroup of stakeholders to gather and share innovative strategies, ideas and resources that others have found successful as they provide access to students with disabilities in distance learning. To learn more about the strategies, ideas and resources from the stakeholder workgroup visit:

The ACSE is committed to fulfilling its role as an advisory body and public input is an essential part of being able to fully inform policymakers about needs of families and students with disabilities, as well as educators. They meet five times a year and work very hard to address issues brought forth in public comment. Their meeting schedule can be found at: I encourage all families that have children in special education to participate in the process and take the opportunity to provide public comment. Public comment is accepted by phone or email on the day of the meeting, as well as in advance through email

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Appoints Former Illinois Special Education Leader Heather Calomese as New Director of Special Education Division

On behalf of the Arc and United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration we welcome the new Director of Special Education, Heather Calomese. Director Calomese brings extensive experience in special education classroom teaching and administrative leadership as she was most recently the Executive Director of the Special Education for the Illinois State Board of Education. We look forward to working with Director Calomese and building a strong relationship for years to come.

Seal of the California Department of Education

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Appoints Former Illinois Special Education Leader Heather Calomese as New Director of Special Education Division

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced today that he has appointed Heather Calomese as the new Director of the Special Education Division at the California Department of Education (CDE).

The Special Education Division provides information and resources to serve the unique needs of individuals with disabilities so that each person will meet or exceed high standards of achievement in academic and non-academic skills. As schools continue virtual learning in the weeks ahead, Calomese will support CDE’s efforts to provide assistance to schools and engage families end educators in ways that ensure the unique needs of students with disabilities are met.

“Heather is an accomplished leader in the special education field with a depth of knowledge regarding high-level special education laws and policies,” said Thurmond. “She is a strong advocate and champion for all students and believes that individuals should be lifted and supported to access the greatness that lies within. She brings to the position extensive experience with equity, human rights and social justice issues along with an unwavering focus and commitment to do what is best to ensure the needs of special education students and their families are being met. I am pleased to add an educator with her passion and dedication to the CDE leadership team.”

Calomese has worked in education for two decades. From 2000-02, she taught English and special education in Iowa City and from 2002-08 she was a special education middle and high school teacher in the Chicago Public School District before transitioning to an administrator role. Prior to joining CDE, Calomese was the Executive Director of Special Education for the Illinois State Board of Education where she focused on the alignment of systems and supports for students receiving Early Childhood, Multilingual, and Special Education services.

Calomese holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Iowa. She replaces Kristin Wright, who now works at the Sacramento County Office of Education. Calomese will start in her new position as Special Education Division Director on August 18.