As we navigate the “new normal” with COVID 19 and the post-pandemic period ahead, if one is searching for the absolute “best practices” or formula guidelines, my heart goes out to you for many will be frustrated, confused, and stressed-out as a result of these changes taking place. I believe we are entering a most extraordinary period of time, especially within education, where we are relying on compassion, common sense, and communication in contrast to compliance to “standards”, state & federal requirements, and government minutia; these will all take a back-seat to the new normal.
A new normal; where we will be sensitive to the individual, addressing their needs, focusing on evidence-based “what works?”, and establishing innovation as the foundation of our efforts. This is a time where General Education and Special Education will need to move forward together through compassion, common sense, and communication rather than separate. A new normal, where our priorities will feature Maslow’s Hierarchy as the foundation of our efforts moving forward: Where our actions, and efforts, will feature student needs rather than social agendas and political values.
Look what happened the last two weeks [March 12-14, 2020], schools were directed to focus on physiological needs [breakfast and lunch], safety needs [child care], and social-emotional welfare [belonging and love needs].
With this in mind, a number of my colleagues, working as lead Special Education Directors, shared the following interpretations of IDEA:
- All students are served as General Education students first and foremost; as long as General Education is “shut down”, Special Education is closed as well. Exceptions include:
- Health and Safety issues: There are a small percentage of students who require a year-long approach to services. We often see this within the Summer Program as an “extended school year” service.
- Compensatory Services: In few cases, the IEP Team will determine that due to extraordinary levels of regression [loss of skills, during an extended break, the student may require additional compensatory supports once the general education program begins again. These services take on many different forms including after school services.
- There will likely be ways in which the timelines within the IEP support system, including IEP Meetings and Evaluations, will be maintained. But this too, is on a case by case basis considering principles such as “access”, “equity”, and safety. For example:
- EVALUATIONS: School Psychologists may be able to meet their 35 school day deadlines as long as they have safe and equitable access to students. If not, districts will document these situations through clear communication and utilize the Prior Written Notice as the means to express the reasons why the Evaluation has to be extended. In most situations, Evaluations require 1:1 contact. As we continue to experience “Shelter in Place” conditions, and in situations where video technology is not an option, the 35 school day process will likely be extended.
- IEP MEETINGS: Case managers are usually very mindful of due dates when it comes to IEP annual meetings. Once again, if the IEP Meeting can be handled through virtual means, then there is a chance these IEP Meetings can be conducted. Then again, there are a number of hoops to jump through as we navigate technology and equitable access. So this too may land in the Prior Written Notice file, and require an extension.
- As far as SERVICES, especially within the context of shifting the traditional brick and mortar model to an online or another alternative model for General Education, then the specially designed instructional model, including the service minutes, will also need to adjust and shift. For example, if students are asked to join online learning models for their primary learning model, then the IEP may need to shift from a “direct service” from the Special Education provider [Teacher or Para Professional[, to a lighter version of “consulting” between the General Education teacher and the Special Education case manager. This is just one example of many; it depends on the student, the means of communication, and the resources available within school and home. Due to the nature of COVID19, we may see a significant impact upon staffing, with a percentage of teachers and para professionals directly impacted by the virus. So the SDI (specially designed instruction] may need to be modified as well. Again, let’s use the lens of compassion, common sense, and communication, as we move forward together! Our efforts will be measured and judged by our intent, our efforts, our initiative; not by our ability to meet pre-dated compliance models.
So as we do, there is NO CANNED PROGRAM for us to work with. As a result, we are called upon to be collaborative, innovative, and creative in our efforts moving forward in support of our students. As such, this may be exactly what many of us have been calling out for: A new instructional model. In fact, post-pandemic, and yes, this will unfold, we may be looking at a “new normal” which is so much more inclusive, equitable, and engaging than the traditional approach. From my lens, I see the unfolding of UDL [universal design], differentiated instruction, and alternative expressions of learning moving forward. As a person very comfortable with change, I am in my element during the COVID19 period. But understand, I am the exception, not the rule! We are encouraged by our state leaders to “take risk” , innovate, and be creative, as long as we embrace compassion, common sense, and communication. “The Department [of Education at the Federal Level] encourages parents, educators, and administrators to collaborate creatively to continue to meet the needs of students with disabilities.”