Today, the president started to encourage schools to begin the process of opening while our country has reached over 1,000,000 cases. There are challenges for special education teachers when it comes to distance learning, but for some of our kids, returning to school could be a violation of LRE and FAPE too.
When we resume school, our students IEPs must be followed to protect their rights. In fact, even while we are distance learning, the Department of Education is NOT recommending IDEA waivers.
By the way, if you’re looking for a home learning schedule, here is one you can use for FREE.
Personal Care Services
Many special education students rely on special education teachers and paraprofessionals for personal care services. Personal care can mean helping students with wiping, changing diapers, and feeding. These activities require close contact and involve bodily fluids.I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to change a diaper from 6 feet away, but I’m pretty sure it’s not possible unless you have arms as long as inflatable wind things.
Failure to provide personal care services is negligent for the kids who need it. Plus some of these same kids are also have immune systems that make them more susceptible to infection. While most kids don’t experience severe complications for COVID-19, some of them will. There is recent research coming out that it can be associated with the rare Kawaski Disease. My best friend’s son nearly died from Kawaski Disease. It’s terrifying, and I am not using that word lightly.
How do we protect our most vulnerable students when school reopens? Will schools have access to enough masks, gloves and other PPE gear? What recourse will student families and staff have if the district is not providing these materials? Doctors and nurses are wearing full suits of PPE gear when possible.
Are our public schools even qualified to tell special education teachers and paraprofessionals what PPE is needed to protect students and staff members who take part in personal care services? These are important questions to consider.
Occupational Therapy happens in schools and in medical settings. Often the work is in close proximity. Schools will need a plan to keep students and OT’s safe. Occupational Therapists have a Code of Ethics to abide by. If sessions are handled remotely and payment is covered through SHARS, your school needs to look into the proper way to bill for it. You can learn more about it from AOTA.
Think about the room your speech therapist currently uses in your school. If your school is like the ones I’ve been in, the speech room is tiny, sometimes just an overgrown closet. Speech therapists often group their students for sessions they can meet everybody’s minutes. How will social distancing be possible in such tight quarters? But without grouping, how are the SLPs going to be able to fulfill all of their legally mandated IEP minutes?
Part of speech therapy requires modeling the movements of the mouth. While there are a few masks with plastic windows, they are hard to come by. Do schools have the ability to provide SLPs with effective masks that still allow for safe speech modeling? Will there be enough for students to be able to use so the SLP can help the student make adjustments?
Creativity will be needed to safely provide speech therapy to our students.
General education teachers are concerned about how they will get their kids to practice social distancing from PreK and Kinder all the way up to high school. Are general education PreK kids going to follow social distancing rules? They are practically hardwired to touch everything, including other people. It’s part of their natural play behaviors. I have a high schooler at home. When school reopens, I really don’t think he’s going to socially distance from his girlfriend. He’s a general education student.
Not only are we going to be asking general education students to socially distance, which will be extraordinarily difficult to enforce, some of the special education students we will ask to social distance will not be able to understand the request or follow it. This puts themselves, students near them, and staff members at risk. In classes with students with more significant disabilities, we have students who have violent behaviors. Sometimes we need to be in close proximity to help the student stay safe. Other times, we need to physically help students implement sensory diets so that they can avoid behaviors that could put themselves or others in harms way.
Many of our students are working on self-regulation skills. COVID-19 will not magically allow them to self-regulate for their own safety and that of others.
For all students, we need to consider the physical spaces of school our students access. We need to ensure that places like restrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, gym, buses, and classrooms have enough space for distancing. Do you think your school has enough square footage to give everybody a 6 foot radius? Will the food service workers be in too tight of working conditions behind the counter in the cafeteria? How will the nurses office be set up to seperate kids with COVID symptoms versus students who are there to get their daily medications, a nose bleed, or an upset stomach?
We Need Answers
While some of our government is eager to push students and staff back onto campuses, I urge caution until these questions are answered satisfactorily. While most children have healthy immune systems, not all of them do, and their safety needs to be considered. Not only do we need to be concerned with our student’s safety even though COVID-19 appears less serious for children, we need to protect all our staff members.
What percentage of school staff members do you think have underlying conditions that would make catching this disease more dangerous? Staff members could be diabetic, undergoing cancer treatment, have asthma, have an autoimmune disorder, or something else that puts them at risk. When I think the people I have worked with, I don’t want any of them catching this. We already know schools are petri dishes. We’ve seen how stomach bugs or flu spread quickly through a school. If your school has 100 staff members and everyone caught it eventually, currently the odds are that at least one of your staff members would die. Not everybody makes a full recovery either.
Teachers and students already face the risk of being shot in their classrooms. When they return to their classes, they’ll face COVID-19. How many deadly possibilities do we expect our students and teachers to endure on a daily basis? How many teachers are going to accept this level of risk?
It’s grim reality, but we need to face it with facts and caution.
Note: I am not a lawyer. This article is not intended as legal advise. It is intended to pose questions to start a dialogue about student and staff safety when schools reopen.