Prioritize the needs of Special Education students this school year

This pandemic without a doubt forced us to focus on the basic economic needs of families and students. The need for economic stability and housing stability was front and center for so many and that took precedence over the search for internet and devices. The questions were real – will I pay for $10 internet, or pay for food? Many families have had to make dramatic shifts, creating an essential need for us to deeply think about how to really serve communities.

We have to acknowledge the important needs of students defined as having special needs – Exceptional Students that desire and deserve access and equitable services. There are many questions and qualitative data that need to be answered and analyzed on how we best serve students and families. With our lives altered exponentially and education inequities further uncovered, our institution of education should Never Return to “Normal!” We have an opportunity to reimagine education for exceptional students and students with special needs.

There was tremendous concern about the pivot to Distance Learning, and yes the digital divide has loomed large. There has been so much necessary attention on internet access and devices. My question is, can we adapt technology to meet the needs of diverse student populations? COVID19 has caused me to focus on cracks in the system, some students and families have historically fallen through these cracks, so it is top of mind to develop the Will to greatly improve services. 

I am acutely aware of the backlog of the IEPs before COVID19 — so where are we now? It is clear we have hundreds of new IEPs that must be developed. Maybe this very specific challenge is a reminder that in SpED programs across the nation, there is an over representation of Black children. Again, can we seize this opportunity to interrupt historic inequities. 

In the #SchoolAfterCovid survey, conducted in partnership with OUSD Office of Equity and GO Public Schools, 22% of Black students had an IEP and only 38% of parents of students with exceptional needs had contact with educators during the spring. And without a doubt we should have great concern and focus resources for those severely disabled students and parents. How can we ensure specialized instruction, and even needed respite, for families is incorporated in better care as we return this fall?  

Physical and occupational therapy often are a part of these students’ educational process, and has been lost as a result of social distancing and not being able to return to school sites. We know we will see incredible learning loss — months and years worth of loss that translates to loss of potential wealth and economic stability.  Students with the severest needs who demand specialized instruction will suffer more with regression in skills and their mental and social health. Where will families be after learning loss and lack of attention to identified services for students?

As we move forward with the beginning of the new school year, we should be paying particular attention to the importance of how best to scaffold and accelerate learning for all students. Our largest challenge will be differentiating Distance Learning to serve students with special needs. Schools and educators improving their own practice during this time will be challenging but necessary and vital to see all students come out of this pandemic with fewer impacts.  

Additionally, I hope we could prioritize as few things:

  • School Districts should be invested in as much instruction time as possible.
  • Incorporating multiple modes of instruction 1:1s and small group instruction.
  • Provide consistent schedules that support students to develop routines 
  • Meaningful Case Management
  • Attention to completing IEP and providing new IEPs as well
  • Reentry back to schools after significant consultation and information provided to families. 
  • Attention to the science and safety for students with pre existing medical conditions and are at high risk for being sick. 
  • Greater investment in parental support – the importance of engaging families to understand their needs from moderate to severe needs.

We recognize some amazing stories of resilience and creativity during this period. SO many are rethinking what it means to educate all children. Educators’ craft has shifted without a doubt and the power and influence of parents and communities to ensure we never go back to an inadequate system, but we are collectively reimagining and demanding newer systems.  

SoBEO wants to hear from  students, partners and educators that are approaching these challenges and envisioning new ways to improve the lives of even the most challenged students and families. There is incredible wisdom and opportunity we are building at this time!!

Check out a former teacher in SpEd with some insightful ideas on how we can be more responsive as a system, and truly support educators’ work to serve our most exceptional students!

What do you think?

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