For the Foreseeable Future: COVID-19

Raise your hand if you feel like you are drowning.

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash [image] person reaching out above the water; they are submerged except for part of their arm

Y’all.

What a year this week has been.

[GIF Description] Animation of a closeup of Eugene Krab with his eye twitching, which is exactly what my eye is doing right now

TBH

Let’s get it out. Are you feeling stressed? Are you feeling like people are sharing so many resources with you your head is spinning? Are you worried about what education is going to look like in the next few weeks, months, or even years? Do you not know how you are going to manage to support your children or students with disabilities (some with complex needs)? Are you worried about the status of your job or the economy in general?

Yes. Yes, to all of it.

But let me tell you something. We are all in the same situation. I don’t think any of us have figured this thing out, and we are going to need each other to lean on.

Feel better? Probably not, but science says that we shouldn’t dwell too much on what we can’t control. So stop overthinking it, and let’s problem solve.

What We Know

Well, I don’t know much. But here is what I can glean from trying to soak up as much knowledge from the plethora of information that is out there.

The vast majority of schools are closed or scheduled to close in the United States. This means that for the close to 7 million students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts are going to have to figure out how to give them a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

Currently, the response is mixed. Some districts that already had the infrastructure to provide remote learning options are settling into the “new normal.” Some districts aren’t even sending home worksheets, presumably buying some time to set up e-learning.

For students with high-incidence disabilities, accommodations like reading directions aloud, extended time, and frequent breaks seem like they would be natural in a home learning environment. The specialized instruction piece of the puzzle will be the hardest to manage, in my opinion.

For students with more complex support needs, ensuring that they receive their accommodations and services will be trickier. Many students receive a modified curriculum, and this practice is delivered in different ways depending on the district you are in. For students who receive a modified curriculum that is aligned to state standards, this is already baked in. But for students who perhaps were included in general education and the curriculum was modified by the special education teacher, how will that be delivered?

The most crucial thing, to me, is access. Whether that is physical textbooks, worksheets, online curriculum, or consulting with a teacher on the phone or video conference, we must do our best to provide access to what students should be learning.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) just provided guidance with a webinar this week.

The CEC suggests eight strategies for special education teachers to deliver online instruction.

  1. Engage with your students.

  2. Set clear expectations.

  3. Create a supportive learning environment.

  4. Foster personal relationships and have fun.

  5. Use a mix of existing tools readily available.

  6. Breakout rooms for individual and group activities.

  7. Smaller chunks and pattern of activity.

  8. Provide prompt feedback.

Here is a link to the presentation notes if you want to read it.

I’m thankful for the leadership of the CEC during this time. For those of you who are worried about what the federal government is doing to protect the right of students under IDEA, Chad Rummel (CEC Executive Director) wrote this letter (from March 20th, 2020) to their over 30,000 members.

Special education teachers are asked to adapt every day—there’s no doubt that what you are being asked to adapt to right now stretches that ask to unimaginable limits. For all that you are continuing to do for our students, I thank you. This week has seen CEC embarking on new journeys to support you: new webinars, opening up resources, and offering free membership to all in our community who need help.

Yesterday, a stimulus bill was introduced into the Senate that contained provisions for education. One of those provisions directs the Secretary of Education to come back in 30 days with a list of waivers needed for Congress to provide under IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to assist the special education community during this pandemic.

Today, CEC President Jennifer Lesh provided a response to the stimulus bill that stresses the need for relief of administrative burden and flexibility so that you can continue to do what’s best for your students, and you need that relief now. In addition, we stressed our commitment to IDEA and the importance of ensuring that whatever changes are made to assist you in this time are strictly limited to dealing with the COVID disruption. We do not want any action by Congress to undo the right children with exceptionalities have to a free, appropriate public education. In addition, we stressed the need for additional funding to support education services during this time.

In the coming days, we will monitor this bill’s progress in both the House and the Senate. In addition, we will engage with the Department of Education to provide input so that any waivers that are enacted to provide you relief are in the best interest of our community and happen as quickly as possible. We will seek your input and, when need, call for action to support our efforts.

In the meantime, please continue to do the next best things for your students. And take care of yourself. I know we will get through this together.

Another bright spot is the emergence of the “Severe Disabilities Online Teaching Collective.” Currently, it is only a Google form that is taking emails, but according to its description:

We are opening the conversation of what and how to provide distance learning during COVID-19 in response to districts and educators looking for solutions to continue to educate students with severe disabilities. We are looking to connect educators towards this effort.

We desire to accomplish this by:

- Sharing of resources (instructional materials, adaptations)

- Creating resources together

- Distributing relevant/timely information

- Offering a space for social and emotional supports for educators

If you are interested in participating in this collaborative work, please fill out the form. We will contact you for the next steps.

Sign up here.

But I still feel overwhelmed.

You and me both.

A couple of nights ago, I told my wife (who is a nurse) before going to bed, “maybe I’ll just wake up tomorrow, and everything will be back to normal.” She told me that “for your and our sake, we need to figure out how to get through this.” And she is 100% right.

We can’t be in survival mode forever. We need to move toward problem-solving instead of denial. And believe me that I am talking to myself as I type this. And whether you are a special education teacher or a parent of a child with a disability, we know all about adapting. So let’s put our strengths to good use.

But I still have questions.

If you have questions about what special education services look like for your child or students, comment below or just email me: timvillegas at thinkinclusive dot us. We may not have all the answers, but maybe we can point each other in the right direction.

ICYMI

Think Inclusive: 5 Ways Educators Can Create an Inclusive Learning Environment for Students Who Stutter

Think Inclusive: My Journey With Universal Design for Learning

Think Inclusive: Listening to Audiobooks Is Not Cheating! It’s UDL.

Noodle: The One Story Every Teacher Needs to Know (And Why)

Thanks for your time and attention.

Tim