Set Up Special Education Students for Success During Your School’s Reopening

by | Sep 9, 2020


In July, we published an article discussing how COVID-19 related school closures in the spring impacted vulnerable student groups, including students with special needs.

USA Today explains some of the ways special education students served by IDEA were left behind:

  • Teachers were unable to teach students in-person, forcing parents to find their own alternative learning solutions
  • Many families in low-income households struggled to find free and affordable tutoring options
  • Many special education students are unable to use common distance learning tools, such as Zoom, due to their disabilities and/or learning disorders

We recently published articles describing how your school and district can prepare parents for new health and learning best practices as schools reopen. These practices are just as important for students with special needs as they are for general education students, because special education students are also a part of the general education population. That said, it’s also important to recognize that special education students may need much more support than typically developing students as they reenter school.

What steps should your school or district take to properly support students with disabilities reentering the classroom?

  1. Form a COVID-19 Planning Committee.

Your district should form a COVID-19 Planning Committee dedicated to keeping your school’s health policies up-to-date with the most recent best practices. This committee’s responsibilities may include:

  • Continually seeking updates from the most recent health department and education department guidance related to serving general education and special education students.
  • Evaluating data from the district’s data management system to identify gaps in services for special education students.
  • Informing school leaders and teachers about how to incorporate targeted supports related to COVID-19 in students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs); for example, some students may need extra support to learn how to use distance learning tools.
  1. Consider additional safety procedures your IDEA students may require.

Some of your students with special needs may be especially vulnerable to catching a severe case of COVID-19, and your leaders may need to take extra precautions to keep them safe. For example, students with underlying health conditions and students who can’t wear a mask due to breathing issues may need more protection against the spread of the virus. Your school may want to implement extra safety procedures such as:

  • Providing face shields for teachers and students in special education programs
  • Incorporating lesson plans for teachers to model the steps for wearing PPE and washing their hands properly
  • Sanitizing school materials more thoroughly and frequently in areas where students with disabilities are located
  1. Consider extra educational and emotional supports your special education students may need.

Every student has unique needs, but students served by special education programs are especially vulnerable to falling behind if they are not offered differentiated learning supports during this health pandemic. School leaders must develop procedures for IEP teams to follow as they decide which supports each student needs during the 2020-2021 school year.

Here are some questions your IEP teams should answer for each student:

  • Did this student experience a lapse in special education services and/or IEP compliance during Spring and Summer 2020? If so, how can we correct these issues?
  • Has this student regressed in any areas of the curriculum as a result of school closures? How can we establish a new baseline for their learning? (Your team should use a combination of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment tools to answer this question.)
  • How should teachers track this student’s academic and behavioral progress in the 2020-2021 school year? (The National Center on Intensive Intervention offers resources to help monitor student progress. We also published an article recently about how to measure student progress through digital learning.)
  • How can we be creative in meeting this student’s health and safety needs as schools reopen? (The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction offers several examples, including sensory accommodations and using visual supports to set social distancing boundaries.)
  • How can we incorporate more social and emotional learning into our lesson plans to provide extra support as students adapt to a hybrid or online-only learning model?
  • What outside supports, such as therapists or tutors, do we need to call upon to support this student?
  • How can we train students and parents on how to use distance learning and assessment tools in case our school must close unexpectedly again, or if the student needs to quarantine? How can we offer this training as soon as possible so everyone is adequately prepared?
  • How else can we equip parents to support their student’s learning at home? (The National Center on Intensive Intervention offers a guide for working with parents.)
  1. Consider professional development needs for your school leaders and special education teachers.

School leaders like you are working under unprecedented conditions as we try to reopen schools during a health pandemic. Many school leaders and teachers are unsure how to properly support students with special needs—especially those who need intensive interventions. Your school and district leaders must provide high-quality, ongoing professional for school leaders and teachers so they can feel prepared to support all student groups under these new conditions.

At the Center for Student Achievement, we are ready to support your team with customized professional development solutions. We work with schools, districts, and Departments of Education around the country to help provide equitable education to all students. Schedule a free call with us today to discuss your questions about how to help your students this year.