Special ed leaders prepare for start of school year

August 24, 2020
Recognizing that it is difficult for every student to have his or her needs met online, the California Department of Public Health will be issuing guidance on allowing in-person learning for small groups of students with disabilities. State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond made the announcement during a news conference with Gov. Gavin Newsom on Aug. 14. Darling-Hammond said districts that work in consultation with local health officials could allow small groups of students with disabilities and other “acute” needs to return to school for in-person instruction, even if their county is on the state’s watchlist for coronavirus. The guidelines were not yet made available as of press time. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, districts and SELPAs have been serving special needs students remotely while following the laws set forth in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which does not contain any emergency provisions. Moving forward, Senate Bill 98 is requiring all IEPs to include a description of how services will be provided in future emergency conditions that require a physical school closure lasting more than 10 school days. According to the law firm Lozano Smith, the description should be developed by the IEP team and included in an IEP amendment or the next annual IEP. Last month, special education leaders shared their approach to the start of the school year on ACSA’s Common Purpose, Uncommon Times Facebook Live program. Guests on the show emphasized the benefits of having general ed teachers and special educators work collaboratively on lesson plans and following the tenets of universal design for learning. “As we’re building our lessons if we’re taking the needs of all learners, including our students with disabilities, it sets a good foundation and provides for accessibility for a wide range of students and increases engagement,” said Heather DiFede, executive director of East County SELPA in the July 20 episode. Communication is key at the start of the new year for reconnecting with families that may be experiencing stress about their child’s education, said Maureen Burness, a special education consultant and co-executive director of the Statewide Special Education Task Force. “A simple phone call to parents is a big opportunity to open up that communication early without necessarily needing to have a 90-minute IEP for every kid the first week of school, because you can’t,” she said. “But what you can do is contact parents, welcome their child back in, let them know you’re there for them, let them know that you want to know what the child’s big issues are these days, and have that communication in a much less formal way.” DiFede mentioned several SELPAs have shared their models for meeting the needs of students with special needs during distance learning, including Marin County SELPA and Placer County SELPA. She said programs that had worked closely with their public health departments have been operating in-person over the summer. Kristin Wright, executive director of Equity and Early Intervention for the Sacramento County Office of Education, made a point to mention equity for students with disabilities. “We have to be careful that we’re not just bringing back all of our students with disabilities and segregating them by themselves,” Wright said. “If they do need more one-to-one support ... we still allow them to push into their general ed classes.”


State to issue guidance on small group in-person instruction for special education

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