With schools across the state closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, Spring and Klein ISDs are taking extra steps to provide essential services and support to students receiving specialized education as at-home learning becomes the new norm.
With 10% of Spring ISD’s student population eligible for special education services, Executive Director of Special Education Margaret Sherwood said communication between families, teachers and other staff during at-home learning is critical to avoid overwhelming families and ensure students’ essential needs are met. Sherwood said her department is working to provide project-based learning modules for teachers to implement virtually or through printed lesson packets, which began April 13.
“We're trying to make sure that we're giving our parents the best information we have and as many resources as possible so that if they need something more than the school can give, ... we've pointed them in the right direction to get those needs met,” Sherwood said.
According to Sherwood, the district is now taking steps to incorporate additional service providers outside of the district who may have normally supported students prior to school closures.
“If my student received speech therapy and occupational therapy, we want [teachers] to reach out to those service providers to sort of sketch out the essential things that the student needs,” she said. “And then, as a team, [they will] contact the parent to get the parents input into remote learning either by Chromebook or through a paper packet.”
At Klein ISD, Executive Director of Special Programs Kirsten Allman said in addition to weekly lessons for students available through KISD’s at-home learning website, the special programs department has also developed its own online resource site with information and webinars to support students and families receiving specialized services at this time. The website also offers a feature that allows users to submit questions about at-home learning and receive responses within 24 hours.
“Within lessons there are embedded supports to include accommodations and resource links needed for students who receive special education services,” Allman said in an email. “Each special education teacher has been asked to set up a system of communication that works best for their student’s family to monitor student progress and offer assistance as needed.”
According to Allman, other services such as counseling or occupational and speech therapy can be provided to students through teletherapy or via virtual meetings with the district’s campus special education support staff.
Despite additional resources and communication, Sherwood said learning from home in the current environment has raised challenges for some SISD families. In some cases, Sherwood said parents working as essential employees might have limited availability to facilitate at-home learning.
“Spring being where Spring is, we have an awful lot of health care providers and the families of health care providers in our district,” Sherwood said. “A lot of times, we're reaching out to grandma or the older sibling to help implement the materials, but so far, those that we can reach have been pretty enthusiastic and delighted to have the support.”
Similarly, Allman said KISD teachers are taking extra care to schedule virtual meetings with students and their families to address questions and provide communicative support.
“Teachers are maintaining communication through virtual classroom lessons, emails and phone calls,” she said. “Teachers have established virtual conference times so parents or students can reach out to ask for assistance or clarification regarding assignments.”
According to Sherwood, the novel coronavirus pandemic differs from past crisis situations such as Hurricane Harvey, when schools closed for a little over a week in 2017. Instead, Sherwood said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is likely to have deeper, more long-term effects on students that the district will have to support over time.
“We're going to have a lot more kiddos who are dealing with death in their family and a lot of our kids that are in a very extended period of absence from their routine, their normal way of life; lots of parents out of work, that's a different kind of trauma,” Sherwood said. “So I think that creativity and sensitivity that the district has demonstrated in the past, we're going to have to come up with that.”