School shootings: helping students with disabilities prepare

The title of this post is so disheartening.  The school shooting in Florida has schools assessing their security plans and emergency drills, which has become as necessary today as huddling in the hallway for tornado drills was when I was in school.  Schools are required by federal law to have emergency plans for students and staff with disabilities.  The best way to ensure that your school has an emergency plan for your child is to advocate for it.

My elementary-age child’s classroom practiced “The Sheep, The Shepherd and The Wolf” emergency drill.  The sheep are the young students, the shepherd is the teacher guiding them, and the wolf–the wolf is an active shooter who the teacher instructs the sheep to “stay out of the wolf’s way!”  This method of preparing for an active shooter is used to instruct young children in a non-threatening way.  Elementary children obviously cannot handle information about an active shooter drill that might be given to high school students.

As schools tailor emergency plans for students according to their development stage, the same tailored plans must occur with students with disabilities.  How will pulled fire alarms, shouting, shooting and other paralyzing noises affect a child with autism?  Or a child who cannot hear or see?  Would a child with developmental delays understand emergency instructions?  Plans for the most vulnerable should be tailored to individual needs, and practiced often.

This article in the Washington Post, “How can we prepare our kids with special needs for a school crisis” provides clear advice on ensuring that your child is included appropriately in emergency plans.  Among much advice, the article suggests:

  • Ask your school district about how they include students with disabilities in emergency plans (required by federal mandate).  Here is a sample plan.  In Ohio, school emergency management plans are not public record but discussions can and should happen.
  • Talk with the administrators in your child’s building about your child and their plan for your child, specifically.  If your child uses a wheelchair, are there steps to get outside at the door nearest your child’s room, and how will your child get outside?
  • Include instructions in your child’s IEP or 504 plan detailing what help your child will need in an emergency.  Make sure your child’s teachers are aware of what help your child will need.  This “Teacher’s Emergency Plan Procedural Checklist” should be provided to your child’s teachers.

Schools are required to have emergency plans for students with disabilities, but the best way to help protect your child with special needs is to make sure there is a plan in place that is tailored to your child’s needs, and known by teachers and administrators.

Contact me at with any questions.


Study: Parents are not planning for future of child with disabilities

A recent “Disability Scoop” article reported on a study in the upcoming April edition of the journal Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities showing that few parents plan for the future of their children with disabilities.  This is not be surprising considering the complexity of planning involved, and the lack of resources afforded these parents.  However, the end result is still the same as with estate planning in general: the person who knows the child and child’s needs best is leaving the future of their child up to someone who does not know the child.  In other words, future decisions are left to the court.

Deciding on residential placement, guardianship, preparing a special needs trust—parents need help navigating this overwhelming journey.  As a special needs planning attorney who prepares special needs trusts, my focus is on securing the financial future of a loved one with special needs without jeopardizing means-tested benefits, typically, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.  Planning is particularly important since many children with special needs are living longer, and outliving their parents.

There is more to planning for your child’s future than securing his or her financial future with trusts, however, if your child has a disability.  Where will your child live?  Who will be his or her caregiver?  There are many options available to explore, but knowing where to start is key.  My recommendation is to start with The Arc: For People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

To learn more, or if you would like more information on special needs planning, email me at

“Teachers want copies of my child’s IEP–what about confidentiality?”

A parent was concerned that several of her child’s teachers wanted copies of the child’s IEP.  She felt that confidentiality regarding her child, his disability, and his education plans would be jeopardized.  “Are teachers entitled to copies?”

Yes.  And, common sense dictates this even if the law did not, as long as everyone understands their legal obligations.  The law states that teachers, related service providers, and others responsible for implementing the IEP should have easy access to it.  How else are they to know what needs implemented if they do not know what is needed?  I suggest giving copies of your child’s IEP to the teachers and service providers.

“But what about confidentiality?”

The school is responsible for instructing all staff who have access to IEPs regarding their legal obligation to maintain confidentiality of student records, and student information.  Personally-identifiable student information cannot be disclosed to anyone without obtaining parental consent.

Student records privacy is covered by FERPA: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  It provides an array of protections for maintaining confidentiality of student records and information.  Most relevant to parents, in my opinion, is what I mentioned above, i.e., personally-identifiable information.  This information must be kept confidential and includes, but is not limited to:

  1. The student’s name
  2. The name of the student’s parent or other family member
  3. The address of the student or student’s family
  4. A personal identifier, such as the student’s social security number or student number
  5. A list of personal characteristics that would make the student’s identity easily traceable; or
  6. Other information that would make the student’s identity easily traceable.

Schools, under FERPA, can release certain directory information to others without violating FERPA.  “Directory information” generally includes information that, if released, is not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy.  The U.S. Department of Education has listed directory information to include:

  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. Telephone listing
  4. Date and place of birth
  5. Participation in officially recognized activities and sports; and
  6. Dates of attendance

What differentiates two seemingly-similar lists is the use of the information.  Directory information is what you see in yearbooks, school directories, and other publications where there is generally no harm or invasion of privacy if released.

If you have questions have your child’s IEP, confidentiality, or FERPA, contact me at

Divorce–special considerations for when a child has special needs

Divorce with a special needs child–the special considerations that need addressed by divorcing parents, their attorneys, and courts could fill a book.  This much-shorter blog post will try to shed light on why this topic requires more careful attention.

Divorce is a difficult and painful process for everyone involved.  Parents must work out arrangements for custody, visitation, and child support.  Standard child support “tables” or calculations, and general “parenting plans” spelling out visitation, guide most divorcing parents in making their decisions.

“Standard” or “general” guidelines, tables and plans are to be assessed carefully, however, when the divorcing parties have a child with special needs.  A typical child support calculation, or standard visitation schedule, might be completely inappropriate for situations where a child has disabilities.  Why?

Visitation often includes alternating weeks, or weekends, where a child goes back and forth between parents’ homes.  For a child on the autism spectrum, for example, such a disruption in routine might be unbearable and ultimately unworkable.  Or, if a child with a disability requires durable medical equipment that cannot be transported, one parent might have to visit their child where the equipment is located—in his or her ex-spouse’s home.  The child’s interests must come first, and in these situations, working out visitation can be tricky.

Child support for a child on varying medicines, therapies and treatment programs that might not be covered by insurance cannot be calculated by standard tables.   Child support payments might need to be made to a special needs trust to avoid disqualifying the child from receiving means-tested benefits (typically, Medicaid).

Spousal support for a parent who gives up his or her career to care for a disabled child—a full-time job—takes on special consideration.  Division of retirement and marital assets must account for the parent who forfeited his or her earnings potential and social security credits to serve as caregiver for a disabled child.

This post mentions only a few of the myriad of issues that are presented with divorcing parents who have a child with a disability.  Parents, their attorneys, and courts need to assess what special needs exist, how to address what is needed, and how to incorporate those needs into visitation, custody, and child support.

If you are considering divorce and have a child with special needs, feel free to contact me with any questions at

Home-based food business in Ohio–how to do it legally

I love practicing law, but if I had the recipe for my friend’s grapefruit marmalade, or family member’s pepper butter, I’d be very busy making these items and making a lot of money selling them with my home-based food business.  If you want to make food items to sell, what are the rules?

Many people make goods to sell at their local farmer’s market.  This has spawned the “cottage food” industry—making food to sell at local venues.  The first thing to keep in mind is that, if you want to ship food outside of your state, you typically need to meet more requirements (licenses, inspections, labeling, etc.) than what is required under cottage food industry regulations, because these regulations pertain to making specific items typically from a home kitchen, and selling locally.

Let’s assume, then, that you want to make food items in your kitchen and sell them at your local farmer’s market.  I will also assume you reside in Ohio, the state where I practice law.  (If you reside elsewhere, be certain to check your state’s requirements for home-based food business.)  Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether you need licensed, and what other requirements you might need.

  1. Is your product included in the “cottage food” list? These are non-potentially hazardous food items listed specifically in Ohio Administrative Code Section 901:3-20-04:
  • Non-potentially hazardous bakery products (such as cookies, breads, brownies, cakes, and fruit pies)
  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Candy (including no-bake cookies, chocolate covered pretzels or similar chocolate covered non-perishable items)
  • Fruit butters
  • Granola, granola bars, granola bars dipped in candy
  • Popcorn, flavored popcorn, kettle corn, popcorn balls, caramel corn (does not include un-popped popping corn)
  • Unfilled, baked donuts
  • Waffle cones
  • Pizzelles
  • Dry cereal and nut snack mixes with seasonings
  • Roasted coffee, whole beans or ground
  • Dry baking mixes in a jar (for making items like breads and cookies)
  • Dry herbs and herb blends
  • Dry seasoning blends (such as dry barbeque rubs and seafood boils)
  • Dry tea blends
  • Flavored honey produced by a beekeeper, if a minimum of 75% of the honey is from the beekeeper’s own hives;
  • Fruit chutneys;
  • Maple sugar produced by a maple syrup processor, if at least 75% of the sap used to make the maple syrup is collected directly from trees by the processor;
  • Waffle cones dipped in candy;
  • Dry soup mixes containing commercially dried vegetables, beans, grains, and seasonings.

If your food product is specifically included in this list, it is a “cottage food” and you do not need a license to sell it.  On the packaging, however, you must state that the product is “home produced.”  (Click here for more labeling and packaging information.)

  1. Is your food product not a cottage food? Then you need licenses and possibly a home inspection.
  • If you are making foods considered potentially hazardous, then you need to comply with Ohio’s regulations for “home bakeries.” Potentially-hazardous foods include baked goods that need refrigerated, such as cheesecakes, filled doughnuts, cream and custard pies.  You will need licenses (Ohio Department of Agriculture, and local health department) and a home inspection, but you can sell outside of Ohio.
  • Certain foods require production in licensed facilities, or in canneries. These include salsas, BBQ sauces, canned vegetables, frozen foods and homemade hummus, which must be produced in a licensed facility.  In fact, salsas, BBQ sauces, and canned vegetables must be produced in a licensed cannery.

For more information on home-based food businesses in Ohio, visit the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s websiteContact me at to discuss starting your own home-based food business.



Surviving family, and the aftermath when a hoarder dies

Grieving is difficult after a family member passes away.  Wrapping up the deceased’s affairs can add stress to grief, particularly if the person who died was a hoarder.  A home that should take a month or two to clear out might take a year or more to empty.  Hoarding is a mental condition related to anxiety, and to obsessive-compulsive disorder, and unfortunately is often left untreated.  This article provides a good description of the situation faced by surviving family when a loved one who was a hoarder dies.

Want to start a small business? Keep it simple

I am so energized by entrepreneurs.  Someone who decides to take an idea or a desire to do or provide something, start their own business and risk so much, then work hard to turn the business into something that will provide for him- or herself, and maybe a family…I enjoy providing as much as I can for clients who ask for my assistance in realizing these goals.

Starting your own small business can be daunting.  While it does take time, energy and money, all three of these requirements can be kept simple, minimal.  Many would-be business owners get completely bogged down over-researching and over-planning the start-up of their business.  Unless you plan to court investors or venture capitalists, then keeping it simple might be the recommended plan for starting your small business.

  1. Write a one-page business plan. Business plans help you formulate your vision and communicate your plan with others.  I’ve seen people omit this step altogether, or become mired in creating an unnecessarily in-depth plan.  You need a business plan for yourself to stay on track, plan goals and develop a financial budget, so I do not recommend skipping this step.
    • What is your mission (why does your business exist)?
    • What are your goals or objectives that will help you accomplish your mission?
    • What steps will you take to meet your objectives?
  2. Develop a budget. Keep start-up costs as low as possible.  How much money will you need to get up and running?  Take that number and add 20% to account for things you hadn’t anticipated.  How long can you run your business before you need to turn a profit?
  3. Select a business entity. Should you form a limited liability company (LLC)? Partnership?  C-corporation?  Elect s-corporation status?  Operate as a sole proprietor, without forming a business entity?  In some states, filing fees for forming an entity are steep.  Consequently, some articles recommend operating as a “sole proprietor” (no separate business entity) for a few months until you can afford incorporation filing fees.  Ohio’s incorporation filing fees are not steep (generally under $200), and the personal exposure risk in operating as a sole proprietor is too great to justify not incorporating if you are starting a business in Ohio.
  4. Operate as a business.
    • Open bank accounts in the name of the business and keep business money completely separate from personal money.
    • Get letterhead and business cards.
    • Sign all business-related matters as “John Doe, President” or whatever title you choose.  Signing just your name might subject you to making a personal guarantee.
    • Get an employee identification number (EIN) even if you do not have employees—you might need it for IRS or other matters.
    • Get a website.

If you want more information on starting a small business, researching the Small Business Administration website, and your state’s Secretary of State’s website, are good places to start.

If you would like to discuss starting your own small business, please contact me at, or via my office’s Facebook page at