A Conversation on Supporting Special Education Students in a Remote Learning Environment
On March 27, the Network for Educator Effectiveness facilitated an online discussion with 300 participants to discuss supporting special education students in this unique remote learning environment caused by COVID-19.
Panelists for the session were:
- Bev Luetkemeyer, Director of Special Education Compliance at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
- Dana Welch, Assistant Director of Special Education Compliance at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
- Brittany Delameter, Director of Special Services, Clinton County R-III School District (Plattsburg, MO)
- Karen McKnight, Executive Director of Special Services, Nixa Public Schools
- Craig Borey, Special Education Director, Maryville R-II School District
The following is a summary of the discussion. You can watch a recording of the full session at the bottom of this post.
Q: What are important steps to continue for special education learners during this time? What are the important compliance issues?
Brittany Delameter: The first thing we wanted to do is make sure to offer all services to special education students that are being offered to all other students. We are providing learning opportunities through Google Classroom and using the Seesaw app to maintain confidentiality so we can communicate individually with special education students.
In terms of compliance, we are doing well, although it is challenging to meet deadlines. We are using calls and Google Hangouts to meet parents where they are at.
Bev Luetkemeyer: There isn’t any authority on the state to extend IEP meeting deadlines or initial evaluation deadlines. Those are the rules we have to operate within, so we have to figure out how to get work done using alternate means.
Karen McKnight: We are starting AMI (Alternative Methods of Instruction) on April 6th. The biggest piece for us so far has been providing guidance to our general education teachers. We have to really figure out the gen ed learning targets and make sure our gen ed teachers are doing something in a consistent manner. We have to adjust our supports, so we have our gen ed teachers thinking about the adjustments and modifications on the front end and our team is in on those PLC meetings to connect on the front end as assignments are going out.
We hammered through our staff that these Third Quarter progress notes are some of the most important we will write because they will be used to make decisions later, so they need to have really good data in them.
Craig Borey: We’re starting April 6th also. We’re taking this week to unload everything and get comfortable with the technology because we are trying to utilize a lot of technology that we haven’t used in the past.
Q: How are special education services being provided in this environment? Talk through some of the strategies and supports you have put in place.
Brittany Delameter: We had a SPED team meeting and said: If these are our kids, what would we want the teacher to do? How can we promise we are doing the best we can to provide interventions during this time and avoid regressions?
We are providing interventions through the Seesaw app and a video to help parents. We’re also providing opportunities for kids that don’t have the internet. We broke our lesson plans down into 3 things: providing interventions, providing activities to do without the internet, and providing activities like IXL or Reading A to Z.
One of the things we also talked about is sometimes parents don’t realize all the services you’re providing, so we talked about sending parents support on how many minutes is appropriate to work on certain activities.
Craig Borey: Here in Maryville, we’ve gone through each individual IEP and went through the goals to figure out how it’s going to work in a virtual learning platform. Our biggest struggle is figuring out how to provide services when there’s such a wide variety of needs. We might need to provide a hotspot, a Chromebook, or mail home packets.
Dana Welch: Some schools are providing WiFi in their parking lots.
Karen McKnight: We are doing lots of connection calls with families across the district. We are one-to-one and were able to send home devices with most kids before spring break. We are on a stay-home order here, so we can’t have families come to the school to collect packets, but we are using buses and school vans to do deliveries for food and for materials.
It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of adjustments, and I wish we had the silver bullet.
Q: How should we handle evaluation processes, both initial evaluations and re-evaluations, during this period?
Bev Luetkemeyer: The compliance team is working on some FAQs that will cover a lot of the same topics in this webinar today. One of the topics is evaluation timelines. (Now posted: Read DESE’s Special Education Compliance COVID-19 Q&A)
The same extensions that always apply when kids aren’t available will apply.
For reevaluation, it gets a little dicier, but you have other options for re-evals. You might already have the resources or documentation needed. One of the beautiful things about special ed is that what you do this time is as good as the next time you do it. The special ed process has the ability to go back and address things again. Even when there’s not a crisis, circumstances change for kids.
I want to take this opportunity to also say how proud I am to be a Missourian and what districts are doing to step up.
Dana Welch: I go back to some of the federal guidance that has come up, too. The feds have said these are exceptional circumstances and could affect how things happen. This is a national emergency, it basically boils down to. Districts should just be constantly communicating and documenting for all the decisions that are being made. That will be the biggest thing at the end of it, is making sure you have the documentation.
Brittany Delameter: I agree. Our team realizes the importance of documenting everything that is communicated to parents, whichever platform the communication goes out on. Be open and transparent in communication with parents that this is the situation now, but we plan to go back to the course of action we had planned prior to this pandemic once things go back to normal. (Brittany referenced a notice of action template provided by the Northwest RPDC that many participants were interested in seeing. DESE’s team would like to review it more thoroughly before we share it here.)
Dana Welch: We just released the continuity of instruction plan for districts to use as a model form designed to help districts document services and other things that are going on during that time.
Karen McKnight: We will be implementing that and having our process coordinators keeping up with that.
Q: Would you start the assessment process after the evaluation or hold off on assessment until we return to normal?
Karen McKnight: For our district, we’re going to hold off on assessments.
Brittany Delameter: We are also going to wait. There’s nothing we can provide at this point.
Craig Borey: That’s not the direction we are going, either.
Dana Welch: For YCDD (Young Child with a Development Delay) kids, you can go ahead and conduct a RED (Review of Existing Evaluation Data) meeting, and the team can determine three things:
- Do you have enough information to write a report about eligibility?
- Are you able to confirm the student needs special ed services through an IEP?
- Do you have enough information to write an IEP?
If you have all those things, you can go ahead and do an evaluation without assessment. It really depends on what kind of quality things you have coming for that child already. Each case is going to have to be individualized.
Bev Luetkemeyer: Keep in mind your deadline is before first grade. We don’t know yet what the summer is going to look like. And I say to my compliance team a lot: What’s the worst thing that can happen? If you have a first-grader who is still YCDD when school starts, they’re still going to have an IEP with goals, you’re still going to implement that, and you’ll take steps to get an assessment done as soon as you can.
Q: How do we document and monitor academic and behavior goals that are on an IEP?
Craig Borey: The toughest one is behavior goals. Parent involvement is going to be huge. Get samples, writing samples from the parents; send surveys. Getting that kind of information back from parents is going to be the biggest piece.
Brittany Delameter: It’s been tough. We didn’t want to overwhelm parents in this first week. We have bigger issues with getting started than kicking it off with data collection. We’ve spent a lot of this week and will spend a lot of next week building rapport with parents before we hop in to monitoring goals.
On Monday, we’ll start having conversations about monitoring goals with our staff. It might be through Zoom or Seesaw with students for our own data collection so we can take that responsibility off the parents.
Karen McKnight: It is such a challenge because we realize whatever we’re sending home right now, we can’t really monitor that with fidelity. I don’t know for sure how we’re going to handle Fourth Quarter grading. We know they’re probably not going to be very accurate. We have to do our best to have conversations with parents and document that in quarterly progress. We also have to realize parents are dealing with a lot, and we just do the best we can to move our kids forward.
Bev Luetkemeyer: As far as IEP goals, remember that Third Quarter grades and progress reports will be critical. Those can help you understand whether the Fourth Quarter monitoring and documentation is accurate, or maybe they need an asterisk.
Dana Welch: There might need to be RTI (Response to Intervention) data collection in the fall when everyone gets back to school.
Bev Luetkemeyer: For those of you that are using a strong RTI model, you already have a way to handle those requests.
Q: What do we do if parents are unresponsive to our efforts to communicate and partner during this time?
Karen McKnight: DESE’s continuity of instruction form has a parent contact log to document efforts, response or nonresponse, and actions taken. We will document all the efforts we’ve made in good faith.
Brittany Delameter: It hasn’t been common for us that parents aren’t responding because our caseload managers have done a great job of building rapport with parents and understanding where parents are at. A lot of parents are in survival mode. Give parents information, and then follow up in a week when they’re a little less overwhelmed. Relationships matter the most in my eyes.
Dana Welch: You can also write parents an email saying “this is what we’ve discussed” after a phone conversation, as an extra step of confirmation. Their response can be their affirmation of what the discussion was.
Bev Luetkemeyer: As far as compliance, there’s not many times that you need an actual signature unless you’re doing an initial evaluation with assessment, a re-evaluation with assessment, or consent for services. The other thing you need consent for is IEP meeting excusal, and that one can be problematic. You can try getting a signature through the mail, but my suggestion is if you’re going to be doing that through alternative means anyway, get someone to fill that role.
Craig Borey: As far as signature goes, would Docusign be useful during this virtual learning period?
Bev Luetkemeyer: I don’t know if there’s any guidance out about that, but I can research it.
Dana Welch: The resources at MPACT would probably be very helpful.
Q: What if a district partners with a state school or private agency that are not providing services at this time?
Bev Luetkemeyer: Districts will want to examine contracts carefully. You do still need to know what’s going on with the students whether you serve them directly or not. You’ll want to make sure that the agency has a process in place to do all the things your schools are doing.
Q: What types of materials, resources, and strategies have you tried for early childhood special education?
Karen McKnight: We have a process coordinator who handles ECE. They use Seesaw to send home lessons and to communicate with families. Again, just trying to find opportunities for play, and I think they’ll be getting some of that at home. We are asking our coordinators to do two weekly check-ins. We’ve talked about finding ways to get supplies home to kids through meal delivery routes.
Brittany Delameter: We’re basically doing the exact same thing that we’re doing for K-12, but the important thing we’re doing with Seesaw is explaining what makes an effective read-aloud, modeling for parents, supporting parents, also providing an opportunity for coordinators to read to kids.
We are struggling with kids that have extreme behaviors, so we’re asking the caseload managers to be extra supportive of those parents during this time.
Craig Borey: Our biggest concern was supplies and how to get that stuff home. We’ve tried to coordinate that with meal pick-up.
Q: How are you handling services like OT, PT, and SLP?
Craig Borey: We are in the early stages of building that. Our speech people are starting to set up their communication, recording it, or allowing small-group instruction. Our OT is having trouble with the supply aspect and how to monitor progress.
Karen McKnight: SLP is doing a lot of things through therapy log. I’m meeting with OTs on Monday to try to figure out ways to utilize things students have at home and figuring out what they need access to. For PT, you have to see what kids are doing, so we’re figuring that piece out. We’re also very cautious of what we’re sending home, whether we want to get it back and how we are going to clean it. We don’t have those answers yet.
Brittany Delameter: We’re doing a weekly conference with students that receive these services. It’s basically a therapy session to see how they’re progressing and what support they need. Our approach is to send home whatever kids need.
Dana Welch provided links to the following resources:
- Teaching Special Education Online During COVID-19 (Webinar) from the Council for Exceptional Children (March 19, 2020)
- Best Practices for Educating Online (PDF Document) from the Council for Exceptional Children and eLuma Online Therapy
- University of Florida CEEDAR Center Virtual Toolkit
- LRP’s Special Ed Connection is a fabulous resource and provides guidance documents that specifically address some of the questions and issues regarding the COVID-19 impact on schools and their special education population. DESE has provided each LEA in Missouri with a complimentary subscription to LRP’s Special Ed Connection which provides instant access to these guidance documents and more. If you need assistance accessing your Special Ed Connections account, please contact the LRP Help Desk either via email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 800-515-4577 ext. 6511.
- U.S. Office of Civil Rights Press Release: OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency