What school re-opening means for EC students

Posted 8/14/20

When Gov. Roy Cooper ordered North Carolina public schools to close for at least two weeks on March 14 in order to spread the slow of the coronavirus, teachers and students across the state struggled …

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What school re-opening means for EC students

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When Gov. Roy Cooper ordered North Carolina public schools to close for at least two weeks on March 14 in order to spread the slow of the coronavirus, teachers and students across the state struggled to adjust.

For students with disabilities — as well as their parents and teachers — remote learning presented additional obstacles. At Chatham County Schools, the Exceptional Children (EC) Department worked to make the difficult transition easier.

Now, with less than a week before the first day of classes, CCS is continuing to plan how to best serve students under the state’s fully remote Plan C option. The district released a resource for parents regarding academic instruction pathways for the year on July 30, linking also in that google document to a resource specifically on EC options for school re-openings.

The document, titled “EC Options Menu,” says: “As schools reopen, the Chatham County Schools’ (CCS) EC Department recognizes the need to bring clarity and understanding to school administrators, teachers, related services providers, and necessary support staff regarding changes and considerations in the different plans and/or options that may be implemented. The following menu has been developed to help summarize what basic services and supports for EC students, staff, and families are available as we continue to educate in an environment in which COVID-19 exists.”

The document is broken down into several areas of service, with each area organized by what it looks like under Plans A, B and C: EC evaluations and referrals, service delivery (for teachers and services providers), EC Pre-K, IEP meetings and homebound and transportation services. The page also includes information on the Extended Content Standard (ECS), Occupational Course of Study (OCS) and instructional practices across the board.

“All Policies Governing Services for Children with Disabilities are to be adhered to regardless of what plan or option CCS implements during the school year,” the document says, linking to a 2018 policy report from North Carolina Public Schools.

EC evaluations and services

Under Plan C, no in-person evaluations will be conducted, including both EC evaluations and referrals. The need for virtual evaluations must be given in prior written notices (PWN) during the referral for current year evaluations. All IEP meetings will take place virtually or on the phone, with all elements of the meeting checklist followed.

All services — including Pre-K and early care students — will be rendered virtually and/or through paper options under Plan C, with IEPs updated to reflect how services and goals will or will not be provided remotely. When Plan B goes into effect, EC students identified as not having internet access as home will be prioritized for in-person school attendance, the document says.

Though protocol for how determination of homebound services has not changed, the document says, homebound services will also be rendered remotely under Plan C.

Instructional practices

All instruction will be provided remotely under Plan C, with progress monitoring to continue to be shared with parents during quarterly IEP progress reports. Instruction will primarily be provided online in small groups, under a combination of scheduled “virtual sessions,” pre-recorded instruction and follow-up activities.

“Students whose IEPs designate instruction via inclusion will receive services within the remote inclusion setting through collaboration between the EC and general education teacher,” the document says. “Additional sessions may be scheduled with the EC teacher prior to or after inclusion lessons for priming or checks for understanding.”

Student progress will also be communicated to parents and students through comments and grades on assignments, progress reports and direct communication.

Occupational courses of study (OCS) will also be rendered virtually or through paper options, but once Plan B is implemented, the document says if students are “significantly behind in schools hours” due to COVID-19, certain assignments will be utilized and noted in a student’s PWN.

‘We’re going to do the best we can’

Chatham County Schools had 1,197 EC students last December, according to a report from the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction, making up about 13% of the district’s student population.

In May, the News + Record shared findings from a report titled, “Supporting Individuals with Autism Through Uncertain Times,” from the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute Autism Team. Released at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report said children and young adults with autism — a common disability among EC students — “may need additional support to process the news and adapt to the many changes.”

“This population may face additional challenges related to comprehension, communication, difficulty understanding abstract language, an insistence on sameness, and a greater likelihood of anxiety and depression,” the report stated, “all of which may be exacerbated during this stressful period.”

The EC document tries to anticipate some of these additional challenges, as well as solutions.

“What this season requires us to do is to double-down on our commitment to see us educating our students any way we can,” Melvin Diggs, CCS’ executive director of EC and AIG, told the News + Record in May. “When things get a little tough, we have to get tough. We’re going to do the best we can with what we know and what we have.”

The full EC options resource can be accessed here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/115TXtLuelFYyThWuiZaUpTje0_HH5aF331m76k5ZJys/edit

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com.

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