Just one year ago Back to School was filled with big shopping trips for clothes, uniforms, and supplies, pictures of students headed out to school or into the school building and a sense of relief for parents that, yet another school year was off to a promising start. This year is vastly different. This Back to School season is filled with frustration, uncertainty, and grave fear for our children’s education as well as their health and safety. Many parents were saddled with deciding whether their student will attend school virtually or in-person while others were not given a choice. Parents of some students are filled with dread because their child did not do well with adjusting to virtual learning at the beginning of the pandemic and they are now facing it again with this new school year. Others are filled with dread because their child’s school decided to open their doors and parents are fearful for their child’s health.
Tips for Special Needs Parents
Special education parents honestly have many more factors to consider when planning for this coming school year. When you have a special needs child, one the has an IEP and likely receives some sort of related services (Speech, Occupational Therapy, or Physical Therapy), deciding the best method of educating that child during a pandemic can be quite overwhelming. To help with preparing and making an informed decision, we would like to offer these tips:
1: Sit with your child's most recent plan (IEP, 504, FBA, PBSP) and determine what worked best when they were in the school building that would not apply to the virtual setting. What adjustments can be made so that your child is still supported? Does the amount of time of the service need to adjust based on it being provided virtually? Does the staff need to alter any of their techniques to accommodate the virtual setting? Do they need to teach you any specific skills to support your child while they are learning at home?
2: Request a Notice of Recommended Education Plan/Prior Written Notice that specifies what adjustments are being made due to the pandemic. Please note that a Prior Written Notice requires a school to provide notice whenever it proposes or refuses to change the special education identification placement or provision of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) for your child. The changes occurring during pandemic programming qualify under this definition.
3: Be your child’s data collector. I know that this is not an easy ask. This experience is already overwhelming and now I am saying to you “do more work.” However, it will pay off when students go back into the building and the staff are programming for your child. When both academics and behavior are analyzed upon return to the school building, regression and progression will be more apparent if you are taking data while they are “in school” virtually. Start by thinking about the end of last school year, when we were all virtual, what did and did not work for your student? If you did something different than what the school said to, what was it? Document it and note the outcome. If there was a behavior that was being addressed in school, use the same plan/goals and document. Coming to the table with your own proof by numbers will not only be helpful to the planning, it will empower you as a contributing member of your child’s education team.
*If you visit our website here and subscribe to our email list you will automatically receive a copy of our toolkit which has a template that you can use to capture these data points.
4: Do what feels right. As parents, we are always placed in a position where we must make decisions with no guarantees of a positive outcome. Please remember that no matter what decision you make, or which is made for you, you must give yourself grace. This is new to us all and no one has the right answer. Just do your very best to provide your child with love, understanding, and equip them, and yourself, with as many supports as possible.
Although Back to School may never be the same, remember that we are able to set the tone in our home. The attitude that we carry about this academic experience this year, and our approach to it, is what will be our children’s perception of this experience. So, no matter how difficult, no matter how many adjustments you need to make, lift your head high and know that YOU GOT THIS!