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Planning To Reopen - Our Schools, DESE FAQ Special Education Qs 1-4

9/4/2020 (Permalink)

The way in which our children learn and our educators teach to begin this school year will be will challenging for both to say the least. Regardless of the reopening model chosen by your school district, all schools will be providing remote learning to some extent. Parents whose children require special education in the COVID-19 environment may be struggling with how these necessary changes may impact the ability of school districts to meet their children's needs.  The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has put together a FAQ to help parents navigate these uncharted waters. 

Please note supplemental information can be found on the Department's website at DESE COVID-19 Information and Resources.

NOTE: COVID-19 is highly transmissible. Individuals should follow these universal precautions regardless of the extent of mitigation needed:

  1. Follow healthy hygiene practices
  2. Stay at home when sick
  3. Practice social distancing 
  4. Use a cloth face covering (with some exceptions) in community settings when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

The current state of the COVID-19 pandemic is continually evolving. What is true today may not be tomorrow. At this time, the evidence suggests schools have not played a significant role in COVID-19 transmission and that children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19.

As always, work with your local health officials to determine a set of strategies appropriate for your community’s situation.

(See our Planning to Reopen series of blogs for more information regarding CDCEPAFDAMass EEAMass DESE, and OSHA safety requirements). To review the administration's reopening guidance from the state click here. To view Governor Baker's full report click here).

The Massachusetts DESE recommends that districts and schools select high quality, and subject areas.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Special Education Related Services, and Models of Learning

1: How will schools and districts provide special education and related services to students with IEPs as schools reopen during this period of public health crisis from COVID-19?

As schools reopen, schools and districts must continue to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students and staff. Students with IEPs must receive all services documented in their IEPs even if services are being delivered in a different service model (i.e.,modified in-person, hybrid or remote). The Department has recommended that certain categories of students be prioritized for in-person instruction even if schools and districts are operating in a hybrid or remote model. Specifically, preschool-age students with IEPs and students with disabilities who have been prioritized for in-person instruction should receive in-person instruction to the greatest extent feasible.

2: How will schools and districts provide special education and related services to students with IEPs during periods when a school or district is providing instruction a hybrid or remote model because of COVID-19?

Even if schools or districts are operating in a hybrid or remote model, educators and administrators must make every effort to continue to provide up to full-time in person instruction for students with disabilities, particularly preschool-aged students and those with who have been prioritized for in-person instruction.If in-person instruction cannot be provided, students must receive special education instruction and related services necessary to provide FAPE through an Instruction and Services model of delivery (e.g., structured lessons, tele-therapy, video-based lessons, etc.).

For school year 2020-2021, remote special education services must include the following components:

  1. A regular and consistent schedule of classes, interventions, services, and therapies as required by the student’s IEP, offered synchronously and/or asynchronously;
  2. Structured learning time designed so that the student can access state standards; and
  3. Frequent interactions with teachers and other staff members to ensure participation and engagement.

The consistent schedule of classes, interventions, services, and therapies must include time interacting directly with teachers and related service providers on a regular basis, as well as some independent work time, as appropriate, and opportunities for interacting with classmates. Synchronous remote lessons or tele-therapy sessions can be provided via telephone or video conferencing. Students might also benefit from asynchronous pre-recorded videos of lessons to follow at home. For students receiving the majority of their daily instruction through special education, teachers and therapists should assign supplemental work (beyond lessons taught synchronously or asynchronously) during the school day that can be accomplished independently with guidance from and accountability to the teacher or therapist.For more detailed information, please see the Comprehensive Guidance on Fall 2020 Special Education Services. For guidance and for specific resources on educating students with IEPs, please see Additional Resources for Supporting Students with Disabilities for All Educators and Providers.

3: How often should schools and districts communicate with parents/guardians during the 2020-2021 school year? 

The Department strongly recommends that schools and districts cultivate excellent two-way communication with families. Schools and districts should ensure that appropriate staff(e.g., classroom teacher, special education teacher, or other service provider) communicate regularly with parents/guardians.The frequency and type of communication will vary depending on the child’s individual needs, the availability of the Team member, and the mode of communication.

The Department recommends that school and district personnel document their communication with families.Communication can include direct conversations, office hours, emails, texts, and webinars for parents/guardians.The communication should be in the primary language of the home, using interpreters and translating documents, when appropriate.

4: How can schools and districts complete the special education initial eligibility process if they cannot complete a face-to-face assessment?

Schools and districts are encouraged to consider any and all evaluation information that is already available, and conduct additional assessments that are needed, as appropriate, for the child under consideration for special education eligibility.

Schools and districts should make a decision regarding the feasibility of completing the eligibility determination process on an individual basis. Professionals should use their best judgment in determining whether the existing data review provides sufficient information for some aspects of a student’s evaluation and, if not sufficient, developing a plan for completing all special education assessments in-person or remotely.

Based on professional judgment, it may be determined that a special education assessment or parts of an assessment may be conducted remotely. Factors involved in professional judgment and supporting a determination as to whether a special education assessment can be conducted remotely include:

  1. Referring to guidance of the relevant professional organization(s) of the particular evaluator conducting the assessment at the state or national level.
  2. Consulting the assessment’s publisher regarding technical/interpretive guidelines for remote administration.
  3. Relying on evaluators as to whether an entire assessment or parts of an assessment may be conducted remotely.
  4. Taking into consideration current knowledge and circumstances of the student and making individualized decisions.
  5. Consulting with the special education administrator.
  6. Considering the use of alternative assessment tools to assess all areas of suspected disability.
  7. Continuing to monitor for developments in the manner assessments can be conducted remotely and, as developments emerge, revisit earlier decisions not to assess, as appropriate.

NOTE: According to Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education areas of the school visited by the COVID-19 positive individual must be closed off and/or cleaned and disinfected. The area can be used 12 hours after cleaning/disinfecting has occurred.

While the administration continues to work with communities to implement best practices and protocols for reopening our schools we will continue to share with you guidance from the CDCEPAFDAMass EEAMass EECMass DESE, and OSHA and the Governor's office to follow as we prepare for the new school year.

Also, we at SERVPRO of Newton/Wellesley know that not every community has access to the resources necessary to meet the strict cleaning guidelines to ensure a safe environment for our children. For those communities, we are here to help!

Certified: SERVPRO Cleaned

The Disaster Remediation Teams at SERVPRO of Newton/Wellesley are specialists in cleaning services and we adhere to the highest cleaning and sanitation standards. We are prepared to clean and disinfect your schools, according to protocols set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We have years of experience in dealing with biological contaminants, and we will go beyond the scope of work of "normal daily cleaning". Call SERVPRO of Newton/Wellesley today for a free consultation - (617) 332-9000.

All of us here at SERVPRO of Newton/Wellesley want you and your loved ones to stay safe and know that we will make it through this together! Rest assured, we will continue to do our best to keep you up-to-date and informed!

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