Recent News


Young Children in Immigrant Families

The latest edition of the Division for Early Childhood’s (DEC) Resources within Reason (July 2017) explains how those in early childcare can support young children in immigrant families, a population that has grown 36% since 2000. Included are resources for understanding the new immigration orders, for facilitating activities designed to support the child's culture and language, and for mentoring undocumented and unaccompanied refugee children living in the U.S.

Click here to download a copy.

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Tennessee Department of Education releases guide to help students with characteristics of Dyslexia

The Tennessee Department of Education released Thursday the Dyslexia Resource Guide, which offers assistance to schools for identifying and supporting for students showing characteristics of dyslexia. This guide provides districts with information related to screening procedures for dyslexia, specific interventions, professional learning resources and reporting requirements.

“For all students to make academic gains, we must make sure that we are recognizing areas of need and providing relevant and focused supports,” Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen said. “This resource guide provides districts a comprehensive view on the characteristics of dyslexia and how to appropriately align interventions that are tailored to individual student needs.”

The resource guide provides the tools needed to support students showing characteristics of dyslexia through Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2), the state’s framework designed to meet the needs of all students through increasingly intensive interventions. For example, schools implement procedures for identifying characteristics of dyslexia through the screening process required by the existing RTI² framework.

Department leaders worked in partnership with the Dyslexia Advisory Council to develop the resource guide over the past year. The advisory council, which was established in fall 2016, includes a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including educators, parents, and school psychologists with expertise in dyslexia from across the state. A draft guide was released in March, and through rounds of internal and public feedback, the guide was revised to be more specific and actionable as school teams work to align interventions in a way that responds to individual student needs.

Moving forward, the department will work with the council to provide professional learning for educators, as well as more guidance for districts and families. Additionally, the advisory council will annually submit a report to the General Assembly with their findings and associated recommendations as they continue to review and monitor dyslexia screening and intervention practices across the state.

The guide came to fruition through Public Chapter 1058, which was sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, and was approved by the Tennessee General Assembly during the 2016 legislative session. In addition to the creation of the resource guide, the law also established the advisory council and requires all students to be screened for the characteristics of dyslexia and provide appropriate interventions for students who are identified as having those characteristics.

The full Dyslexia Resource Guide is available on the department’s website at To learn more about Public Chapter 1058 and the Dyslexia Advisory Council, visit the department’s website.

For more information about the Dyslexia Resource Guide, contact Theresa Nicholls, assistant commissioner of special populations and student support, at

Click here to download the Dyslexia Resource Guide: Guidance on Public Chapter 1058 from 2016

Click here to download Understanding Dyslexia: A Guide for TN Parents and Educators

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Traumatic Brain Injury Targeted Family Support Program

The Tennessee Department of Health has partnered with The Arc Davidson County & Greater Nashville to administer the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Targeted Family Support Program effective July 1, 2017. The intent of the statewide program is to benefit the individual with disability due to traumatic brain injury. This program will assist those individuals and their families to remain together in their homes and community. The program is modeled after the DIDD Family Support Program as described in the Family Support (TCA 33-5-201). The statewide program will enroll 119 individuals and grant a $2000.00 allocation per fiscal year. Persons currently enrolled in the ECF and CHOICES waivers are eligible to apply. One cannot be enrolled on both the Tennessee Family Support Program and the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Targeted Family Support.

Please refer interested individuals/families to the county assigned TBI Service Coordinator. The coordinator will assist the individual/families with completing an intake and gathering required documentation related to the nature of their disability. 

Click here to download complete list of the Traumatic Brain Injury Program Tennessee Service Coordinators.

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TN Special Education Directors Update - July 27, 2017

The current Special Education Directors Update is out from the Tennessee Department of Education.

Please note the updated TN Special Education Eligibility Definitions and Standards that went into effect on July 1, 2017.  Click here to review the comparison document disability standards.

In this issue:

? Educational Disability Definition and Standards Training

? IDEA Parentally Placed Private School Students Evaluation of Services

? FY17 Discretionary Grant End-of-Year Evaluation Report

? 2016-17 State/Local Special Education Expenditure Report

? Update from OSEP

? STEP, Inc. Special Education Transition Academy Sept 27 & 28

? Save the Dates for the 2017-18 WBL Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

? Professional Development for Special Populations

? Special Education Supervisors Conference

? 2017-18 TRIAD Professional Development and Training Opportunities

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Tennessee Becomes First State To Adopt Safety Ratings For Youth Sports Leagues

This week, Tennessee becomes the first state to adopt an official safety ratings system for youth sports leagues.

The program hopes to corral a wild west of safety standards across all sports. It will award levels like Bronze and Gold to organizations based on their level of compliance.

One of the minds behind the new Safe Stars system says the idea came from a discussion about a different state initiative — one that rates the safety of daycares.

Dr. Alex Diamond of Vanderbilt’s Injury Prevention in Youth Sports program says that effort set minimal safety and health requirements for daycares across the state. Since it was performing so well, he says they thought “You know what? We should do something around sports.”

Dr. Diamond compares the current situation to dropping your kid off at a pool that has no lifeguard.

The new program would set sports safety standards for potentially life threatening issues by requiring things like AED machines at all facilities and venues. To meet the the Bronze level, organizations would need to check off a number of items on the list, like performing background checks and having an emergency plan.

But there’s one move they wish all leagues could make, which would earn a top rating.

“In an ideal world, we could solve a lot of these problems by having every youth league and organization have an athletic trainer,” Diamond says. “An athletic trainer can take care of all of these issues and take the burden quite honestly off parents and coaches who are absolutely well meaning — but volunteers.”

But hiring a trainer is an expensive proposition. To have one trainer appear at games alone, it recently cost one Middle Tennessee youth football program nearly $1,700 for the season. Safe Stars would like to see trainers at every activity, including practice, which would greatly increase that cost.

The other hurdle for some communities is internet access. Most of the certification courses for things like concussion safety and heat awareness are online only. That will likely limit the participation from some rural and lower income leagues.

Diamond says the group behind Safe Stars is aware of “the resource factor” faced by some leagues but believes if their efforts mean saving the life of just one child, it is worth doing.

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Long-Term STEP Staff Member, Donna Jennings, Honored by OSEP

As part of the 2017 Office of Special Education Leadership Conference in DC, Parent Center staff from across the country were recognized for their years of service.

During the Parent Center Plenary, STEP’s Business and Personnel Manager, Donna Jennings was awarded a certificate honoring her for 18 years of dedicated service to families of children with disabilities in Tennessee!

We are thrilled to share this accomplishment with you and express our thanks to a STEP team member who has demonstrated her commitment and passion for families and youth by giving  using her expertise for 18 years creating a brighter future for children and youth with disabilities in Tennessee.

Donna is a Tennessee native and she joined the STEP team as an employee in 1999 after serving on the STEP board. As a parent of a young adult who experiences different abilities,she has had the opportunity to learn and grow in the in her knowledge of special education through her journey with him. She has been a guest lecturer at King College and is a TN Partner in Policymaking Graduate. 

Donna enjoys volunteering and helping with community projects, sharing her son’s journey with other families to help give them hope and make them familiar with resources. Her interests include horseback riding and motorcycle riding with Cody in the sidecar, outings with family and friends, camping, cookouts, picnics, swimming, going to the beach, and doing home improvement projects. 

Her area of focus in special education is ensuring students with significant disabilities have to access to the general curriculum with supports, assistive technology, adaptations and modifications. Donna resides in Greeneville in East TN.

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Rosa’s Law: Federal Regulations Updated to Reflect Intellectual Disability Terminology Changes

Rosa's Law (Pub. L. 111-256), signed in 2010, amended sections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Rehabilitation Act), by removing the words “mental retardation” and replacing these outdated terms with the words “intellectual disability” or “intellectual disabilities.” Final regulations, published on July 11, 2017, implement these statutory changes in applicable Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services regulations.

The law is named for Rosa Marcellino, a girl with Down Syndrome who was nine years old when it was signed into law. Then-President Barack Obama underscored Rosa's influence at the signing ceremony by pointing out that she "worked with her parents and her siblings to have the words 'mentally retarded' officially removed from the health and education code in her home state of Maryland."

You may read the final regulations implementing this statutory change in applicable Department of Education regulations in the July 11, 2017 Federal Register notice.

You may read President Obama's signing remarks in the October 8, 2018 White House Archives.

IDEA Statute:

Rosa's Law amended IDEA by substituting “intellectual disabilities” for “mental retardation” in sections

IDEA Regulations:

As stated above, the final regulations published on July 11, 2017 in the Federal Register implement Rosa’s Law. Because Rosa’s Law amended IDEA, The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has made conforming changes to the IDEA regulations (34 CFR part 300). The term “mental retardation” has been changed to “intellectual disability” in the following Part B regulations:

  • §§300.8(a)(1) and (c)(6), (c)(7), and (c)(10)(ii) (Child with a disability);
  • §300.309(a)(3)(ii) (Determining the existence of a specific learning disability); and
  • §300.311(a)(6) (Specific documentation for the eligibility determination).

Rehabilitation Act:

Rosa's Law amended the Rehabilitation Act by

  • substituting “intellectual disability” for “mental retardation” in section 7(21)(A)(iii) (29 U.S.C. 705(21)(A)(iii));
  • substituting “intellectual disabilities” for “mental retardation” in section 204(b)(2)(C)(vi) (29 U.S.C. 764(b)(2)(C)(vi)); and
  • substituting “President's Disability Employment Partnership Board and the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities” for “President's Committees on Employment of People With Disabilities and on Mental Retardation” in section 501(a) (29 U.S.C. 791(a)).

Rehabilitation Act Regulations:

In the regulations implementing the Rehabilitation Act, “intellectual disability” replaces “mental retardation” and “having an intellectual disability” replaces “mentally retarded” in the following definitions:

  • "handicapped person" in §104.3(j)(2)(i)*;
  • "individual with a severe disability" in §385.4*;
  • "individual with a significant disability" in §361.5* and §373.4*;
  • "individual with handicaps" in §105.3*; and
  • "physical or mental impairment" in §361.5*.

*Indicates section is within Title 34 CFR.

“Intellectual disability” replaces “mental retardation” in Appendix A to part 104, Title 34 CFR.


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How to Talk About Bullying

Parents: help prevent bullying by being a positive role model for treating others with kindness and respect. Click here to read more

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First Tennessee Foundation Awards STEP, Inc. Grant

Pictured left to right:  Jennifer Keller, First Tennessee VP Community Banker, Karen Harrison, STEP, Inc. Executive Director, and Donna Jennings, STEP, Inc. Business Manager

Helping youth with disabilities prepare for life after high school and achieve their goals is what STEP, Inc. does through our transition services.

Helping non-profits in Tennessee accomplish their mission is what the First Tennessee Foundation does through their community grants.

"We are so grateful to the First Tennessee Foundation for their generous donation of $3,000. STEP, Inc. will use these funds to purchase iPad's and iTunes cards to give away at our transition events across the state," said Karen Harrison, Executive Director at STEP, Inc.

The check was presented to STEP today by Jennifer Keller, VP Community Banker and was received by Karen Harrison, STEP Executive Director, and Donna Jennings, STEP Business Manager.

Michelle Huffman with the First Tennessee Foundation in a letter to STEP wrote: "The First Tennessee Foundation is honored to be part of the good work and success of STEP, Inc. and pleased to provide this grant of $3,000."

STEP's next Transition Academy will be held September 27th and 28th in Nashville at Lipscomb University where one lucky teen will win an iPad!    Click here to register today.

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Getting Started: Help Your Child With a Learning Disability Be More Independent With Assistive Technology (AT)

This guide can help your child with a learning disability take important steps towards independence for high school, postsecondary education, and employment. Topics covered include: setting priorities and goals, working with your child’s IEP team, and exploring assistive technology.

CLICK HERE to download the PDF resource guide.

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