Mental Health Education and Support at School can be Critical

A Brief Overview

  • Alarming statistics indicate the pandemic worsened many behavioral health outcomes for young people. Governor Jay Inslee on March 14, 2021, issued an emergency proclamation declaring children’s mental health to be in crisis.
  • President Joe Biden issued a Fact Sheet about the nation’s mental health crisis on March 1, 2022, as part of his State of the Union message. This article includes some of what the president shared about youth impacts.
  • Washington State’s 2021 Healthy Youth Survey confirms that children and youth are struggling to maintain well-being.
  • These outcomes make adolescence a critical time for mental health promotion, early identification and intervention. Read on for information and resources.
  • The emotional well-being of students may be served through Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), which provide a structure for schools to provide education and supports related to student well-being schoolwide.
  • Students with high levels of need may access mental health support through the special education system. Emotional Disturbance is a federal category of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Full Article

Alarming statistics indicate that children and young people are in crisis. Governor Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation for children’s mental health on March 14, 2021. Data from Washington’s 2021 Healthy Youth Survey confirm the distressing trends:

Seven out of ten students in tenth grade report feeling nervous, anxious, on edge, or cannot stop worrying. Eight percent said they tried suicide within the past year. Almost 40 percent said their feelings were disturbing enough to interrupt their regular activities, and more than 10 percent of students said they didn’t have anyone to talk to about their feelings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about half of young people who need behavioral health services get them.

According to the 2021 statewide survey, students with disabilities struggle more than most. Also over-represented are girls, students from lower income households, and students whose gender or sexuality is non-binary. Non-binary refers to more than two things; it’s a term often used when discussing people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, or questioning (LGBTQ+). LGBTQ+ youth can seek crisis help and more from The Trevor Project.

“Reports of our children suffering with mental health issues are a worrisome public health concern,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Washington’s Secretary of Health. “Mental health is a part of our children’s overall health and well-being. It is imperative that we all continue to work together to fully support the whole child by providing information and access to behavioral health resources to youth and the trusted adults in their lives.”

Concerns are nationwide. On March 1, 2022, President Joe Biden issued a Fact Sheet stating that grief, trauma, and physical isolation during the past two years have driven Americans to a breaking point:

“Our youth have been particularly impacted as losses from COVID and disruptions in routines and relationships have led to increased social isolation, anxiety, and learning loss.  More than half of parents express concern over their children’s mental well-being. An early study has found that students are about five months behind in math and four months behind in reading, compared with students prior to the pandemic.

“In 2019, one in three high school students and half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an overall increase of 40 percent from 2009. Emergency department visits for attempted suicide have risen 51 percent among adolescent girls.”

Mental Health support to students is a statewide priority

Recognizing the unmet needs, Washington State’s 2022 legislature passed a variety of bills to increase support to children and youth with behavioral health conditions. Here are a few examples:

  • HB 1664: Provides funding and incentives for schools to increase numbers of staff who provide physical, social, and emotional support to students. Schools are responsible to report to the state how these funds were used for hiring staff that directly support students and not something else.
  • HB 1800: Requires Health Care Authority (HCA) to build and maintain a website (“parent portal”) to help families seek out behavioral health services. Also supports growth and training requirements for behavioral health ombuds serving youth through the Office of Behavioral Health Consumer Advocacy.
  • HB 1834: Establishes a student absence from school for mental health reasons as an excused absence.
  • HB 1890: Creates an advisory group under the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Work Group (CYBHWG) to build a strategic plan for children, youth transitioning to adulthood, and their caregivers. Also establishes a $200/day stipend (up to 6 meetings per year) for members of the CYBHWG with lived experience who are not attending in a paid professional capacity.

TIP: Family caregivers can get involved in advocacy work!

Here’s another TIP: Families can ask their school who is on site to support students with their mental health needs. Some school districts seek support from an Educational Service District (ESD) to meet student behavioral health needs, so families can also ask whether ESD supports are available. Some ESDs are licensed as behavioral health providers—just ask.

What is MTSS, and why learn this acronym to ask the school about it?

A priority for agencies involved in statewide work is implementation of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS). Through MTSS, schools support well-being for all students and offer higher levels of support based on student need. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is key to MTSS, which creates a structure for positive behavioral supports and trauma-informed interventions.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the state educational agency for Washington schools. In its 2021 budget, OSPI prioritized MTSS as part of a plan to Empower all Schools to Support the Whole Child. In January, 2021, OSPI was awarded a five-year, $5.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education help districts implement MTSS. As a local control state, Washington districts determine their own specific policies and procedures.

TIP: Families can ask school and district staff to describe their MTSS work and how students are receiving support through the various levels/tiers.

Special Education is one pathway for more help

Students may access mental health support through the special education system. Emotional Disturbance is a federal category of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Appropriate support can be especially critical for these students: According to the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), students eligible for school-based services under the ED category are twice as likely to drop out of high school before graduating.

How a student is supported in their life planning could have an impact. PAVE provides a toolkit of information about how to support a student in their preparations for graduation and beyond: School to Adulthood: Transition Planning Toolkit for High School, Life, and Work.

Note that a student with a mental health condition might qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under the category of Other Health Impairment (OHI), which captures needs related to various medical diagnoses. Other categories that often overlap with behavioral health are Autism and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). IEP eligibility categories are described in the Washington Administrative Codes (WAC 392-172A-01035).

In Washington State, the ED category is referred to as Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD). If the student’s behavioral health is impaired to a degree that the student is struggling to access school, and the student needs Specially Designed Instruction (SDI), then the student may be eligible for an IEP. Keep in mind that academic subjects are only a part of learning in school: Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is part of the core curriculum. 

An educational evaluation determines whether a student has a disability that significantly impacts access to school and whether Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and related services are needed for the student to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). FAPE is the entitlement of a student eligible for special education services. An IEP team determines how FAPE/educational services are provided to an individual student.

Behavioral health counseling can be part of an IEP

Counseling can be written into an IEP as a related service. When included in a student’s IEP as educationally necessary for FAPE, a school district is responsible to provide and fund those services. School districts can receive reimbursement for most of the cost of behavioral health services for students who are covered by Medicaid and on an IEP. The Health Care Authority provides information about school-based health services for students who are covered by Medicaid and on an IEP.

A student with a mental health condition who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might be eligible for a Section 504 Plan. A disability that impairs a major life activity triggers Section 504 protections, which include the right to appropriate and individualized accommodations at school. Section 504 is an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a Civil Rights law that protects against disability discrimination. Students with IEPs and 504 plans are protected by Section 504 rights.

Behavioral Health encompasses a wide range of disability conditions, including those related to substance use disorder, that impact a person’s ability to manage behavior. Sometimes students with behavioral health disabilities bump into disciplinary issues at school. Students with identified disabilities have protections in the disciplinary process: PAVE provides a detailed article about student and family rights related to school discipline.

Placement options for students who struggle with behavior

IEP teams determine the program and placement for a student. In accordance with federal law (IDEA), students have a right to FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate. That means educational services and supports are designed to help students access their general education classroom first. If they are unable to make meaningful progress there because of their individual circumstances and disability condition, then the IEP team considers more restrictive placement options. See PAVE’s article: Special Education is a Service, Not a Place.

Sometimes the IEP team, which includes family, will determine that in order to receive FAPE a student needs to be placed in a Day Treatment or Residential school. OSPI maintains a list of Non-Public Agencies that districts might pay to support the educational needs of a student.

A precedent-setting court ruling in 2017 was Edmonds v. A.T. The parents of a student with behavioral disabilities filed due process against the Edmonds School District for reimbursement of residential education. The administrative law judge ruled that the district must pay for the residential services because “students cannot be separated from their disabilities.”

Strategies and safety measures for families and teachers

The Healthy Youth Survey is conducted every other year and was delayed from 2020 to 2021 because of the pandemic. Over the years, results are shared along with tips for families and schools. Here are a few considerations built from various data points within the survey:

Hopeful students:

  • Are more interested in schoolwork: Is there a way to make every day at school more connected to what a child cares about?
  • See people who can help: Who are the adults at school that a student can trust and go to for encouragement or guidance?
  • Believe that school is relevant to life: Who is helping the student connect what they are learning now to who they want to become?
  • Are academically successful: Are supports in place to provide adequate help so the student can succeed in learning? Evidence-based instructional strategies are key when students struggle in reading, writing, or math because of learning disabilities, for example.

TIP: Make sure these four topics are part of a school/family discussion when a student is struggling with emotional well-being or behavior that may be impacted by hopelessness.

A 2018 handout includes tips for parents and other adults who support teens who feel anxious or depressed:

  • Bond with them: Unconditional love includes clear statements that you value them, and your actions show you want to stay involved in their lives.
  • Talk with teens about their feelings and show you care. Listen to their point of view. Suicidal thinking often comes from a wish to end psychological pain.
  • Help teens learn effective coping strategies and resiliency skills to deal with stress, expectations of others, relationship problems, and challenging life events.
  • Have an evening as a family where everyone creates their own mental health safety plan.
  • Learn about warning signs and where to get help
  • Ask: “Are you thinking about suicide?” Don’t be afraid that talking about it will give them the idea. If you’ve observed any warning signs, chances are they’re already thinking about it.
  • If you own a firearm, keep it secured where a teen could not access it.
  • Lock up medications children shouldn’t have access to.

A press for school-based services and mental health literacy

Advocacy for direct school-based mental health services and education about mental health topics comes from the University of Washington’s SMART Center. SMART stands for School Mental Health Assessment Research and Training. The SMART center in 2020 provided a report: The Case for School Mental Health. The document includes state and national data that strongly indicate school-based behavioral health services are effective:

“Increased access to mental health services and supports in schools is vital to improving the physical and psychological safety of our students and schools, as well as academic performance and problem-solving skills. Availability of comprehensive school mental health promotes a school culture in which students feel safe to report safety concerns, which is proven to be among the most effective school safety strategies.”

The SMART Center in partnership with the non-profit Chad’s Legacy Project in 2021 established an online Student/Youth Mental Health Literacy Library. Intended for staff at middle and high schools, the library provides resources to help schools choose curricula for mental health education on topics that include Social Emotional Learning, Substance Use Disorder, and Suicide Prevention.

Goals of mental health literacy are:

  • Understanding how to foster and maintain good mental health
  • Understanding mental disorders and their treatments
  • Decreasing Stigma
  • Understanding how to seek help effectively for self and others

TIP: Families can direct their schools to this resource to support development or growth of a mental health education program.

For information, help during a crisis, emotional support, and referrals:  

  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK): After July 16, 2022, call 988
  • Text “HEAL” to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Text Line counselor
  • Trevor Project Lifeline (LGBTQ) (1-866-488-7386)
  • The Washington Recovery Help Line (1-866-789-1511)
  • TeenLink (1-866-833-6546; 6pm-10pm PST)
  • Seattle Children’s Hospital has a referral helpline. Families can call 833-303-5437, Monday-Friday, 8-5, to connect with a referral specialist. The service is free for families statewide

Further information on mental health and suicide:  

Family Support

  • PAVE’s Family-to-Family Health Information Center provides technical assistance to families navigating health systems related to disability. Click Get Help at wapave.org or call 800-572-7368 for individualized assistance. Family Voices of Washington provides further information and resources.
  • A Facebook group called Healthy Minds Healthy Futures provides a place to connect with other families.
  • Family caregivers can request support and training from COPE (Center of Parent Excellence), which offers support group meetings and direct help from lead parent support specialists as part of a statewide program called A Common Voice.
  • Washington State Community Connectors (WSCC) sponsors an annual family training weekend, manages an SUD Family Navigator training, and offers ways for families to share their experiences and support one another. With passage of HB 1800 in 2022, WSCC is working with the Health Care Authority to build a statewide website to help families navigate behavioral health services.
  • Family, Youth, and System Partner Round Table (FYSPRT) is a statewide hub for family networking and emotional support. Some regions have distinct groups for young people.

WISe Provides Team-Based Services for Washington Youth with Severe Behavioral Health Disorders

A Brief Overview

  • WISe behavioral healthcare teams serve children and youth 20 or younger whose conditions are too severe to benefit appropriately from regular visits to a community clinician and/or therapist.
  • To qualify for WISe, the young person must be eligible for Apple Health, which is the public health program for Washington State. WAC 182-505-0210 describes Apple Health eligibility standards.
  • WISe was created as a response to the T.R. et al. lawsuit, settled in 2013.
  • Different agencies manage WISe programs in various regions of the state. The Health Care Authority manages a downloadable list of WISe agencies, organized by county. Families can contact their area agency by calling the phone number on this referral list.
  • Read on for various places families might seek solidarity and support. One option is Family, Youth, and System Partner Round Table (FYSPRT), which is a network of groups that meet to discuss what’s working/not working in behavioral healthcare systems in their communities.

Full Article

Children and youth with intensive needs related to behavioral health may be eligible for services from a statewide program called WISe–Wraparound with Intensive Services. A WISe team includes various clinical and professional staff and certified peers, who may support the emotional needs of family members.  

WISe services are provided in the community—outpatient—for children and youth 20 or younger who are eligible for public insurance, called Apple Health in Washington State. To be assigned to a WISe team, the young person must demonstrate a need for services that are more intensive than what is provided from regular visits to a community clinician and/or therapist.

What does behavioral health mean?

Behavioral health is a broad term describing services for people with conditions based in the brain that impact their behavior. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance use disorder (SUD) are examples of severe behavioral health conditions impacting some adults and young people.

Other childhood conditions are many and varied, and not everyone uses the same terms for the same symptoms. The Child Mind Institute is a place for information about childhood symptoms, diagnoses, and options for treatment and support.

Some developmental conditions, such as autism, are considered behavioral health conditions when symptoms have a significant impact on behavior. A person with a complicated behavioral health condition may have impacts in multiple areas and may be given a “dual diagnosis.”

Who is eligible for WISe services?

WISe services are for children and youth until their 21st birthday. WISe is only approved if the patient has used other, less intensive therapies, with little to no improvement.  Once approved for services, a young person may spend time on an “interest list,” receiving limited support, before a full team is formed to serve them.

The young person is evaluated with a Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) intensive mental health screening tool, called the CANS-SCREEN.

Five core areas are evaluated:

  1. Life functioning
  2. Behavioral and emotional needs
  3. Risk behaviors
  4. Caregiver resources and needs
  5. Diagnosis and prognosis

According to the CANS-SCREEN, “The care provider, along with the child/youth and family as well as other stakeholders, gives a number rating to each of these items. These ratings help the provider, child/youth and family understand where intensive or immediate action is most needed, and also where a child/youth has assets that could be a major part of the treatment or service plan.”

WISe requires public health insurance eligibility

In addition to meeting criteria based on their symptoms, a young person must be eligible for Apple Health, which is the name for public health insurance in Washington State. The Washington Administrative Code (WAC 182-505-0210) describes Apple Health eligibility standards for children.

Apple Health is most often administered by Managed Care Organizations (MCOs). In 2022, plans are provided by Amerigroup, Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW), Coordinated Care, Molina, and United Healthcare. Families can request case management from their MCO to help them navigate and understand healthcare options available to them.

An MCO care coordinator/case manager commonly is the person who refers a young person into WISe, although referrals also can be made by the family, a provider, a county health agency, or someone else with knowledge of the circumstances.

Different agencies manage WISe programs in various regions of the state. The Health Care Authority manages a downloadable list of WISe agencies, organized by county. Families can contact their area agency by calling the phone number on this referral list.

Who is on the WISe team?

Team members include:

  • Natural supports (family, friends, religious leaders…)
  • A Care Coordinator (who oversees clinical aspects of the case)
  • Therapist
  • Professionals (clinicians/prescriber if needed, Child Protective Services, probation officers and others who are relevant)
  • Certified peer support specialist
  • Others upon request (youth peer, school staff…)

The clinical group creates a Team Vision Statement, explaining what they plan to achieve and how they will accomplish it through collaborative work. The family also creates a Vision Statement, showing what strengths they would like to build in their family and what tools they need to make their goals possible.

WISe requires family engagement

The time commitment for WISe is significant. Clinicians engage with the whole household on topics related to school, health, work, relationships, home organization, and more.

WISe publishes data about its service delivery. According to January 2021 Service Intensity Estimates, an average family spends 10 or more hours per week engaged with WISe services. This could be much higher, especially in the beginning. Parents/Caregivers are offered therapy sessions and opportunities to engage with parent peers. 

WISe clinicians are responsible to integrate their work to fit with a family’s schedule, often seeking creative ways to tuck sessions into already busy days. For example, a clinician describes a day when they picked up a child at school and conducted a session in the car while driving the child to their next activity. After work, parent met with the clinician while the adults watched the child swim.

Family experiences with WISe are varied. Some say WISe created a critical turning point that enabled family survival. Others cite high staff turnover as a barrier to ideal therapeutic outcomes. The program is most effective with buy-in from the young person and their caregivers and when services are provided to match family needs and schedules.

Does my child have to agree to WISe services?

WISe is a voluntary program. Families may be able to motivate their child to participate by getting services started through Family Initiated Treatment (FIT). FIT was established as a pathway to treatment for youth 13-17 when Washington passed the Adolescent Behavioral Health Care Access Act in 2019. A parent/caregiver can initiate outpatient services to attempt to get the youth to engage. If after 12 visits (within 3 months) the youth is still unwilling to engage with the treatment, the family must end services. They have the option to engage a different provider to try FIT again.

What if WISe isn’t enough?

The WISe program is the most intensive outpatient program that the state offers. If services don’t seem to be working, the family might check the WISe Service Delivery, Policy, Procedure and Resource Manual to see whether there is more the program could be doing. The family also might check if the child could get additional services from another agency to complement the work with WISe. For example, service providers from a special education program at school or from the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) can collaborate with a WISe team.

If a child needs inpatient services, they may be eligible for a referral into the Children’s Long-term Inpatient Program (CLIP). Children placed on a waiting list for CLIP often receive ongoing services from WISe. PAVE provides an article: Children’s Long-Term Inpatient Program (CLIP) Provides Residential Psychiatric Treatment.

History, Advocacy, and Family Support

WISe was created as a response to the T.R. et al. lawsuit, settled in 2013. The class-action lawsuit named ten plaintiffs who were denied treatment for schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and other serious psychiatric conditions. Most were institutionalized repeatedly and for extended periods, despite recommendations by therapists and case workers that they return home and receive services in their homes and local communities.

Disability Rights Washington (DRW) provided attorney support for the settlement of the T.R. et al. lawsuit. DRW is monitoring current issues related to children being underserved through WISe and encourages families with concerns to contact attorney Susan Kas: susank@dr-wa.org.

Another result of the legal settlement was a statewide network of stakeholders who meet regularly to discuss what works/doesn’t work within the behavioral health system for youth. That network is called Family, Youth, and System Partner Round Table (FYSPRT). Regional FYSPRTs report to a statewide FYSPRT to share input for system improvement. Regional groups are a hub for family networking and emotional support in addition to serving as a place to engage with community health providers, insurance case managers, and other professionals. Some FYSPRTs have distinct groups for young people to meet and support one another. Many FYSPRT groups use online meeting platforms due to the pandemic.

Another place for families engaged in behavioral health services to network is Washington State Community Connections (WSCC), which sponsors an annual family training weekend, manages an SUD Family Navigator training, and offers a variety of ways for families to share their experiences and support one another. WSCC in 2022 is engaged in work to help build a statewide website to help families navigate behavioral health services across systems. Stay tuned!

Families can get direct support from A Common Voice, a statewide non-profit staffed with Parent Support Specialists who have lived experience parenting a child with challenging behavioral health conditions. The program offers virtual support groups and 1:1 help. A Common Voice is part of the Center of Parent Excellence (COPE), managed by the state’s Health Care Authority. The COPE project website provides a schedule of support group meetings and contact information for regional lead parent support specialists.

An informal place to connect with other families is a Facebook group called Healthy Minds Healthy Futures. Advocates in this group initiated work for an interactive website for parents and are engaged in a push for HB 1800 to expand behavioral health services for minors statewide.

Families wanting to advocate for system change can participate in meetings of the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Work Group (CYBHWG). The work group was created in 2016 by the Legislature (HB 2439) to promote system improvement. CYBHWG supports several advisory groups, including one for Student Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention. The work groups include representatives from the Legislature, state agencies, health care providers, tribal governments, community health services, and other organizations, as well as parents of children and youth who have received services. Meetings include opportunities for public comment. Meeting schedules and reports are posted on the Health Care Authority (HCA) website.

Parity laws, thoughtful language, stopping stigma

Keep in mind that a healthy mind is part of a healthy body, and U.S. laws protect parity for all illness conditions. Despite those protections, discrimination and stigma are commonly discussed within behavioral healthcare systems. Here are a few tips and considerations to help reduce stigma:

  • All behaviors start in the brain, so an impairment that impacts the brain is going to affect behavior. Some behaviors are not a person’s fault; that’s why they need treatment, support, and services.
  • Specific person-first language can help reduce stigma. For example, instead of calling someone bipolar or schizophrenic, say they are a person with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
  • An exception to person-first language is in the autism community, which has collectively agreed to use the term “autistic” to describe someone on the spectrum.
  • Saying that someone has “behavioral health,” or “mental health” does not describe their condition or what they need help with. Everyone has mental health! A better choice is to describe the condition/concern and the need for help: “This youth’s schizophrenia is impacting every aspect of life, and they need a range of services and treatments to recover and move forward with their life plans.”
  • A person who dies from suicide did not commit a crime, so the word “commit” is inappropriate to use when discussing suicide.

For additional information on related topics, including areas where behavioral health impacts school, see PAVE’s article: Mental Health Education and Support at School can be Critical

How to Navigate School for Youth with Mental Health Concerns

Staff from PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) program provided a workshop as part of the statewide virtual conference hosted by NAMI Washington October 16, 2021.

This recorded training provides a general overview of student rights in education. Some information is specific to students impacted by mental health conditions.

The formal content begins about four minutes into the video and ends at about 46 minutes.

Here are a few examples of topics addressed:

  • Does my student have the right to be evaluated for special education if they refuse to go to school because of anxiety?
  • What accommodations are reasonable to ask for?
  • What services might be possible for my student who struggles with emotional regulation?
  • Can counseling be a related service?
  • Are there protections for a student because of suicidal thoughts or attempts?
  • What support is available for a student with a disability condition who isn’t prepared for adulthood because high school got interrupted by the pandemic?

Additional information about mental health education and services at school, the overall layout of youth behavioral health in Washington State, and where to find family support is included in a PAVE article: Mental Health Education and Support at School can be Critical.

To seek education, training, and support from the National Alliance on Mental illness, look for a virtual training or information about a local affiliate near you, listed on the NAMI WA website.

One place to access behavioral health services for children and youth anywhere in Washington is through the Seattle Children’s Hospital Mental Health Referral Service: 833-303-5437, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Families and young people can reach out for individualized assistance from PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff at PAVE. Click Get Help or call 800-572-7368.

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Webinars offer Parent Training to Support Behavior during Continuous Learning

While school facilities are closed because of COVID-19, families impacted by disability face complex challenges. For some, children’s difficult behaviors are a regular concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stress and anxiety in children and youth may show up through unexpected or maladaptive behaviors. Those behaviors might get worse because of fear, isolation, and disrupted lives.

Meanwhile, some of the help that used to be there is gone. At school, students may have gotten 1:1 support or direct instruction to encourage behavioral skill-building. Those aspects of a special education program might be difficult or impossible to provide during social distancing.

While students are learning from home, parents can request individualized support from the school to support behavioral expectations, if behaviors have educational impact. Parent training can be a related service in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). As always, family caregivers can request an IEP meeting to discuss options to support academic and behavioral goals and expectations.

If the student has a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP), that document might hold clues about strategies most likely to work. For more ideas about how to communicate with the school in reviewing a student’s program and perhaps also designing a temporary Continuous Learning Plan, parents can refer to PAVE’s article: IEP on Pause? How to Support Continuous Learning with School Buildings Closed.

To generally support caregivers in their various roles during COVID-19, Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) offers a three-part webinar designed for families to help with behavior in continuous learning environments. The webinar has been recorded and uploaded to YouTube in sections, so families can access the content at their own pace.

The webinars are moderated by Lee Collyer, OSPI’s program supervisor for special education and student support. Collyer, a parent, describes his own challenges during the pandemic alongside ideas from research-based sources. Families are invited to send questions and comments to lee.collyer@k12.wa.us.

In various forums, Collyer has described his investment in fostering positive behavioral supports for students in order to reduce disciplinary actions. In a May 13, 2020, OSPI webinar about Mental Health and Safety, Collyer said, “My fear is that we’re going to try to discipline our way out of trauma.”

Following is a brief description of each segment of the three-part webinar series, with a link to each specific webinar. If you start with the first one, you will have the option to stay connected and flow through all three. Each segment is 20-25 minutes long, and the first one includes some background information about OSPI and Collyer’s role.

Supporting Positive Behavior in Continuous Learning Environments – Part One

Collyer begins the series by sharing OSPI’s official statements related to mission, vision and equity. He offers reassurance to parents that everyone is learning something brand new together, without time for proper training, and that “We should not let pressure from schools, teachers or school communities dictate what works for our family and what kind of learning we are prioritizing during this time.”

Collyer talks about the value of learning that is imbedded in everyday activities and part of family routines. He shares insights from psychiatrist Bruce Perry and psychologist Ross Greene, both widely regarded authors who apply their research to inform parents. Their names are linked here to practical articles about supporting positive behavior, and both are easily searchable to find additional materials.

The OSPI webinar includes signs of stress and anxiety to consider. Collyer recommends behavior solutions based on skill building: If children do not know how to do something (like behave), the answer is to teach, he points out, not punish. The segment ends by explaining how behavior serves a function and understanding that function is key to reducing escalations.

Supporting Positive Behavior in Continuous Learning Environments – Part Two

The second segment begins where the first leaves off, by discussing the functions of behavior and how to identify them and intervene early. Pre-teaching skills and reinforcing positive behaviors over negative ones in a 5:1 ratio is encouraged: For the best outcome, catch a child doing what is expected and provide encouragement five times more often than calling out an unexpected behavior.

The second segment also provides some specific strategies for home/school communications. Collyer describes the difference between a consequence and problem-solving and offers specific strategies for parent/child problem-solving.

Supporting Positive Behavior in Continuous Learning Environments – Part Three

The third segment begins with information about how a crisis might escalate and how reason and logic are compromised when fear and frustration highjack a person’s response system. Adults may need to consider their own escalation cycles and develop a personal plan for self-control to support children, Collyer says.

He describes how children might be uneven in their development of cognitive versus social-emotional skills and how that might create confusion about the best parenting strategy. How to set limits with considerations for trauma and ways to shift from negative to positive interventions are additional strategies provided in the final segment of this webinar series.

For additional resources from OSPI, visit the page for Special Education Guidance for COVID-19.