Episode Four: Special Education During High Risk
You voiced your questions and concerns about the ASD School Start 2020 plan, and the District heard. Starting this week, ASD will air a twice weekly, pre-recorded Q&A session with a variety of ASD and community member hosts and guests who will take a deep dive into the details of what school will look like this fall. Videos will post by the end of day every Tuesday and Thursday leading up to the start of the school year. Topics will dig into everything from teacher tricks to encourage social distancing among young students (airplane arms!)? to how will my senior be best prepared for post-graduation life during a pandemic?
Send us your questions here! The District wants to hear your thoughts and comments to be considered for inclusion in the interview.
Lisa Miller: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of "Airplane Arms: Navigating Back to School." Today, we're going to talk about special education and what the families with special education students can expect when they return to school in the fall. My name's Lisa Miller. I'm a communication specialist with the Anchorage School District, and I'm joined today with Cindy Anderson, our senior director of special education. Hi, Cindy, thanks so much for joining us today.
Cindy Anderson: Thank you for having me.
Lisa Miller: So a lot has changed since March when we went into that hunker down status and we unexpectedly did not return from spring break. So I wanted to give you the chance to kind of give an overview of what families can expect. What will their special education students be returning to and in the fall, now that we're confirmed at that high risk level for the start date?
Cindy Anderson: Well, we're currently in red, so we'll be starting with e-learning, and we have been working all summer to build Canvas courses for all of our students, including general education students, so, our special, many of our special, students with disabilities are in general ed classes. We also have resource classes and we have special programs classes, and we're building all of our courses in Canvas and we are building them in a much more robust way, and we have time to build them in a much better way for instruction and support, both for the students and for parents and families.
Lisa Miller: Yeah, and you know, we heard from a lot of parents who said e-learning doesn't work for my special needs students. I had a parent tell me, you know, my student is very tactile, a tactile learner, and she kind of compared it to going to the gym versus running on your own on the trails. Some people really need that structure of the building to move them along. So what are some of the tools that we'll give to families to help them through that e-learning experience?
Cindy Anderson: Well, I think one of the things, points we have to make is for students with disabilities, they all have a case manager, and a lot of times a team working together, And when things aren't working within the system, or working within the instruction, that's when you reach out to your team and you talk about what those options are. And so, for example, when you have a student with, that's very tactile, it might be talking with your case manager about what can you use at home to teach in a tactile way, to support in a tactile way. If it's a child with social skills, how do we use Zoom to build some social skills lessons and supports that way, and then give some tools to families to continue that social environment in the home and teach some of those social skills. So it really is working on an individual basis with the team to figure out what the needs are and how to meet those.
Lisa Miller: Yeah, so it's kind of like a group effort between the parent, the case manager to help really coach the, and the teacher, to help the student through the e-learning process. So during this high risk level, some parents have said that they just need their students to continue in the classroom setting. What are your thoughts on that compared to what you just said about the working with the case manager to work through e-learning?
Cindy Anderson: Well, at the high risk level, we're following what the municipality and state guidelines are, and protecting students, families, and staff, and to say one group would come in and another not come in would be, it would be really difficult. The other thing is the classroom would never look like what the student had been used to. We might be using plexiglass to teach behind. It might be that the students and teacher would be, you know, they'd have to wear their masks, or additional PPE, you know, gowns, and things like that. It wouldn't be groups of students to work on social skills. It might be one-on-one, but really we're going to follow those guidelines that are set by the municipality and state, because we, I really feel, and I think, you know, the district and municipality feel we've got to protect our families, we've got to protect our staff. And so, we're going to do the best we can in a robust way with the e-learning, and again, we're going to go back to our case managers to help us do that in an effective way.
Lisa Miller: Yeah, and as far as parents, you know, parents want to know what can they do. I think that all of the parents just want to make the best possible environment for their students. You mentioned new opportunities to coach parents through. Can they expect like invites to Zoom meetings and that type of thing, or how will that look to help the parent feel best prepared?
Cindy Anderson: Well, the district is really building a parent training portal, and special ed will be doing the same. I think parents need to understand also what's available. We have a group of staff that are ready to help with behavioral support. So if students are really having behavior issues at home, we can get staff involved in IEP meetings or in meetings to support behavior plans that parents can implement at home and support our students. So we have quite an expanse of services we can really look at. We, our speech language pathologists, our OT, or occupational therapist, our physical therapist can provide services through teletherapy or through Zoom sessions, and we can work with parents as well with those, with speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy needs through this e-learning and teaching parents how to work at home. Eventually, when we get back in school, parents can continue that support and service at home, and we can be doing that at school. I expect we'll see significant progress when we're, both families and school staff are working together on those goals and objectives.
Lisa Miller: And Cindy, what will, you know, like occupational therapy, that type of thing, how will that be implemented through e-learning?
Cindy Anderson: So it would be through Zoom sessions with the parent and the student, and it would be the occupational therapist or physical therapist demonstrating through Zoom and the parent working with the student directly. But there may be some videos that we can provide, some other ways that we can provide the services, but it will be the parent supporting the student directly.
Lisa Miller: So it sounds like really a check-in point where the parents get instruction and some interaction, direct interaction to give them the next steps to help their child along
Cindy Anderson: Right, and some of our students who have physical therapy or occupational therapy are middle school and high school, and it may just be working directly with the student, giving the student direction and then watching them do that over Zoom and making sure they're doing it correctly, stepping up on a step, or using, holding a pencil, or doing some of those things correctly. So we can work directly with students, but we can also work with the parent to work with the student.
Lisa Miller: What about those students that just aren't making the progress? What's the plan to address and help those, move those students along?
Cindy Anderson: Well, first we want to try to make as many adjustments as we can to make sure we're making progress during this time. But if we're not, we're going to sit down and have a conversation with families as we get back into school about what we need to do to really enhance the learning, increase the learning, so that we can regain those lost skills. That may be looking at expanding summer options. It may be looking at some opportunities after school, those kinds of things that we can do within the district that will really help students expand and regain the skills they've lost through this whole COVID situation.
Lisa Miller: So, it sounds like they'll have, you know, the coach, that case manager, to check in with, talk about what's working, what's not working, and really, just like everything, we're taking this one day at a time. It's not even week-by-week, it's really day-by-day, and just, you know, making the best choices we can in each day to move things forward.
Cindy Anderson: Absolutely, everything, things have changed even just recently, and so we just have to be prepared and we have to ask for grace, and then we have to be flexible and figure things out and communicate effectively about what the needs are and how we can make adjustments to really support students' growth.
Lisa Miller: Cindy, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate your time and your insight into what the start of the fall school year will look like for the special education program. Thanks for joining us, and thank you for tuning in. We'll continue these videos throughout the start of the school year, so please feel free to submit any additional questions you have. We'll link to that Google Form, where you can submit questions. Thank you.