Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools

A Brief Overview

  • Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a federal right that has not been waived during school and office closures related to COVID-19. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) are one way to get support. Another is through 1:1 counseling and an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
  • The best way to seek DVR services for a student still working toward graduation is to contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map, Find a School Transition Counselor.
  • Families and students also can reach out to regional DVR staff for information about how to access services, including summer camps and programs.
  • Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).
  • Graduating seniors can seek DVR and DSB services now!

Full Article

Teenagers and young adults with disabilities have additional considerations when deciding what life looks like after high school. The transition planning process, which begins in middle school and continues through high-school graduation and beyond, is extra challenging with social distancing measures and uncertainty about how jobs and higher education are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Washington State, young people can get help from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which is housed within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). DVR staff are working remotely and creatively to continue providing services to adults and students during office and school closures, says Chelsie Gillum, a Regional Transition Consultant (RTC) in Pierce County.

DVR services are a civil right

The right to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services is an aspect of Title 1 of the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 2014, the Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees equitable access to public spaces and programs, was further amended to include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) were already an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act, but WIOA further defines Pre-ETS and requires that VR agencies set aside 15 percent of their funding to provide or arrange for the provision of Pre-ETS.

Note that Section 504 is also a feature of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 guarantees the right to accommodations for equitable access in public facilities and programs and is the basis for a student’s “504 Plan” that provides accommodations, modifications, and anti-discrimination measures for educational access. Section 504 protections aren’t limited to school: Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 protect a person in higher education, work, and elsewhere throughout the lifespan.

None of these federal rights have been waived during COVID-19.

Pre-ETS may include summer options

Gillum is among DVR staff who support groups of students with Pre-ETS. Generally, programs include job exploration, work-based learning, counseling about further educational options, workplace readiness and self-advocacy training. Some programs are being offered online or through other distance delivery methods in Summer 2020.

For example, a Youth Leadership Forum is being organized as a weeklong virtual camp in July 2020. A Facebook page for YLF is one way to learn more. Junior Achievement: Finance Park is another summer option for students statewide who want to learn more about personal finance and business. Families and students can reach out to regional DVR staff for specific information about these and other options for summer and beyond.

“Just because you cannot attend a camp in-person does not mean you have to miss out on valuable work readiness training and work-based learning experiences,” Gillum says.

Gillum says virtual job fairs, recorded informational interviews and virtual tours of job sites are options during social distancing. “Agencies and businesses are still hiring,” she says. “DVR applications are being processed, and intake meetings are being conducted.”

Gillum encourages 2020 graduating seniors to seek services right away: “I want to make sure our graduating students are as connected as possible, especially given how uncertain the world is right now,” she says.

Pre-ETS can start at ages 14-16 or later

Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can receive Pre-ETS as young as age 14, if the IEP includes a Transition Plan. An IEP team can write a Transition Plan into the IEP whenever the student, family and school staff are ready to begin that process. DVR staff can support that work, Gillum says, and families can initiate those contacts.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that governs special education process and protects the rights of eligible student, requires that an IEP include a Transition Plan by the school year in which the student turns 16. PAVE provides an article and a video about the high-school transition process in general. In addition, PAVE has an article about graduation and life-planning impacts of the shutdown: High School Halt.

Students 16 and older can receive Pre-ETS from DVR if they have an IEP, a Section 504 Plan and/or a documented disability and a family caregiver and school staff sign a DVR consent form. If the student is 18 or older (educational age of majority in Washington), the student and school staff sign the DVR form.

Families and students can contact DVR directly

Gillum says the best way to access the 2-page consent form and begin services is to contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map on a page called, Find a School Transition Counselor. By entering the county, school district, and name of the school, families can get a name and phone number for the DVR staff member assigned to their specific school.

Families also can look on DVR’s Pre-Employment Transition Services website page and scroll down to the chart that lists Regional Transition Consultants by area/county and includes phone numbers.

Families, schools, and students will need to work collaboratively to provide the required signatures for consent forms during the pandemic. Scanned versions may suffice in the short term, although mailed copies may eventually be required. A DVR counselor can provide guidance about the best methods for submitting the required forms to begin services.

Services for the blind are managed separately

Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency in Washington State. The Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) provides Pre-ETS and VR for clients statewide and maintains an Orientation and Training Center (OTC), to help individuals learn to navigate the world with limited or no vision, in Seattle.

DSB continues to serve clients during school and facility closures, says Michael MacKillop, Acting Executive Director. In early spring, 2020, MacKillop noted that DSB had been able to serve all clients who qualified for services, clearing a waitlist that is part of the state’s Order of Selection to serve clients within its budget.

Order of Selection impacts access to 1:1 DVR support

DVR also operates with Order of Selection when clients apply for individualized vocational rehabilitation (VR) counseling. The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is a DVR program that is separate from Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). The IPE is supported 1:1, whereas pre-employment services are generally provided to groups of students.

Through Order of Selection, individuals with the highest needs for support are prioritized for 1:1 support from a DVR counselor. When developing an IPE, the client and counselor establish a goal for employment; the counselor provides coaching, logistical and sometimes financial support to help make that happen. The case remains open until the employment goal is met if the client remains meaningfully engaged in the process. IPE services might include educational support if further education is needed to achieve a job goal.

Can a student get Pre-ETS and 1:1 help?

A student might receive services through both programs—Pre-ETS and the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). However, families should be aware that there are some specific rules related to Order of Selection.

  • If a student is already participating in Pre-ETS, the student can apply for an IPE and Order of Selection will not impact the student’s ongoing engagement in Pre-ETS.
  • If the student applies for an IPE first and is put on a waiting list, then the student also will have to wait to begin Pre-ETS.
  • A student will have more access to DVR services by engaging with the Pre-ETS first and then considering whether to also apply for individualized support.

Signing a consent form with DVR is the first step

The family and school need to work together to complete DVR’s consent form before services can begin. Some programs, including summer camps, require a student to be officially enrolled in Pre-ETS. Completing the consent form is a first step.

Services from DVR expand work underway at school

Note that all students in Washington work with counselors and other school staff on a High School and Beyond Plan, which includes interest surveys and career cruising, encourages volunteer work, and provides an organizational method to ensure that a student’s work in school strengthens a pathway toward adult goals. The state requires this planning to begin in Middle School, by 7th– 8th grade, for all students.

Summary of Tools for Transition

To summarize, a student with a disability has a set of possible tools to support the high-school transition and plans for higher education, work, and independent living:

  1. High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP)—described on the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The HSBP is a tool for all Washington students and required to begin by 8th
  2. IEP Transition Plan—described by OSPI in a booklet, Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans. A Transition Plan is an IEP requirement by age 16.
  3. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) from DVR, for students with a documented disability who may have an IEP, a Section 504 Plan or no plan. A student does not need to be eligible for DVR case management to receive Pre-ETS.
  4. An Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), if eligible, with 1:1 DVR support
  5. Person Centered Planning is another tool: PAVE provides an article about PCP, with reminders that sessions can happen in person or virtually.

Key elements of Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)

Pre-ETS include five required services. Each service in this list is linked to a resource for further investigation. DVR counselors can provide additional resources to suit an individual’s unique circumstances:

  1. Job exploration counseling: career speakers, interest and ability inventories, investigation of labor market statistics and trends, and more
  2. Work-based learning experiences: in-school or after school opportunities, including internships, provided in an integrated environment to the maximum extent possible. According to the Brookings Institution, work-based learning is predictive of future job quality.
  3. Counseling on opportunities for further education: How to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA®) and how to locate disability resource centers at colleges and universities are part of college readiness.
  4. Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
  5. Instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer mentoring, training in disability disclosure, and more

Work-based learning and work readiness programs are generally provided by agencies that contract with DVR, says Gillum from DVR in Tacoma. “Transition consultants oversee those contracts and help connect students and agencies to develop a service plan.”

Why VR is worth the work and where to go for more information

Research shows that access to an array of collaborative services during high school improves post-secondary outcomes, especially when school staff and service providers get to know one another and there are “warm hand-offs” between individuals who develop trusted relationships with the young person, according to data shared by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). Another place for data and detail about WIOA is the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC).

Engagement with vocational rehabilitation services is supported by initiatives endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). These federal agencies promote the concept of Employment First, a framework for systems change centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life. 

The PACER Center, a Minnesota-based agency founded in 1977 to promote a “parents helping parents” philosophy, supports the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment, which offers a collection of materials with more information about vocational rehabilitation and how to benefit from pre-employment and employment services. Included in the PACER Center’s materials is a booklet for parents to help young people prepare for college and careers.

Washington’s DVR program provides a video about the school-to-work transition with young people talking about their experiences with the agency and how it helped.

Chelsie Gillum from the Pierce County region of DVR encourages young people and families to contact DVR despite the pandemic. “Even if vocational rehabilitation services are not what you need immediately,” she says, “our team can help connect you with other resources to help you during the pandemic. We appreciate your patience and flexibility as we all adjust to meet people’s needs in this ever-changing landscape. We cannot wait to hear from you!”

 

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.

 

Quick Look: How to Prepare for a Virtual Meeting

Schools and families continue to meet virtually to discuss special education services during the closures related to the coronavirus pandemic. Here are tips to help family members prepare for remote meetings to discuss a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), a Section 504 Plan, evaluation for special education services or something else related to a special education student’s needs and learning program.

For more comprehensive information, see PAVE’s article, IEP on Pause? How to Support Continuous Learning with School Buildings Closed.”

  • Determine a regular communication plan with the school. That might include email, telephone, text, web-based meetings, U.S. mail, packet delivery by school bus…  whatever works for regularly checking in.   
  • Family caregivers can request meetings. PAVE provides a template to formalize the request: Sample Letter to Request an IEP Meeting. Included with the letter template is detail about who is required to attend IEP meetings, and those requirements have not changed.
  • The Special Education Continuous Learning Plan is provided by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to support but not replace the IEP during the national crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Included in the form is a sample meeting agenda.
  • Consider confidentiality and privacy issues. Ask school staff to describe how privacy and confidentiality are protected through a suggested meeting platform, and make sure to have any passwords or PINs ready to use when you log in or call into a meeting.
  • Before a meeting, ask to sign any necessary paperwork or releases to have special education records sent electronically via email. Special education records can include meeting notifications, IEP or Section 504 documents, assessments, progress reports, Prior Written Notices that describe meetings and planned actions, or other materials that contribute to the program review and goals.  
  • Review records before the meeting and write down questions to ask during the meeting. PAVE provides a Parent Handout Form or, for self-advocates, a Student Handout Form, that can help organize concerns and questions. Another version of a Parent Input Form is provided by the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
  • Carefully review goals, services, accommodations, modifications and consider how they might apply or need to be adjusted for current circumstances. Think creatively and prepare to collaborate and request expertise from school staff. Pay special attention to the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. These present levels statements, within the first pages of the IEP document, describe how the student is doing and where there are challenges. Wrightslaw.com provides tools specifically to support parents in reviewing IEP present levels in preparation for a meeting during COVID-19.
  • Consider whether the student will attend the meeting. A student who is 14 or older is invited as part of the state’s Pathways to Graduation planning. PAVE provides an article: Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future.
  • Communicate early—before the scheduled meeting—to request updates about progress, a student’s present levels of performance, or other concerns. If family caregivers build a handout for the meeting, that can be submitted ahead of time to ensure that this information is part of the agenda.
  • Family members can request a practice session to test the technology. Part of that training might include practice sharing the screen to make sure everyone will be able to view important documents during the formal meeting.
  • As with in-person meetings, family participants can invite support people. A friend or family member might be able to attend and take notes.
  • Refer to parent and/or student input forms to stay on topic and ensure that all concerns and questions are addressed.
  • When the meeting ends, family participants can ask for a copy of the program recommendations page.
  • After the IEP meeting, the school provides a Prior Written Notice (PWN) to the family participants to review meeting notes and any decisions, agreements, or disagreements. Ask when and how the PWN will be provided. Family participants have the right to request amendments or corrections to the PWN.
  • Be sure to leave with a clear action plan. Here are key questions to ask and record:
    • What will happen?
    • Who is responsible?
    • When will the actions happen? Are there timelines?
    • How will we communicate for follow through?
  • As with any meeting, any unresolved issues can be addressed in a follow-up meeting.

To learn more, PAVE provides a six-minute overview of IEP basics and a 30-minute training video about special education.   

IEP on Pause? How to Support Continuous Learning with School Buildings Closed

A Brief Overview

  • This article provides some basic ideas for families to consider while students are doing school in a whole new way during the COVID-19 shutdown.
  • As always, programming for students who qualify for special education services is uniquely designed to address a student’s strengths and needs. Special education law maintains a student’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), although some aspects of a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) may not be deliverable under emergency circumstances.
  • Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, spoke directly to special education parents and students in a 13-minute public address April 17, 2020. A recording is available on YouTube: Reykdal Addresses Grading & Supports for Students with Disabilities During School Closures.
  • The Special Education Continuous Learning Plan is provided by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to support but not replace the IEP. Read on for more information.

 

Full Article

Some teachers and family caregivers are cooking up clever ways to deliver learning to students staying home during the coronavirus crisis. Their recipes for success include carefully structured schedules, a mix of online and offline curriculum materials, regularly planned check-ins for parents and students, social-emotional support strategies, and adaptability to address a student’s unique interests, talents and needs.

If that is not your family’s reality, you are not alone. Many schools are struggling to serve special education students without their regular routines and spaces. Some families have set aside academic pursuits for now as they focus on getting through each day safely and with adequate nutrition. The state requires districts to provide learning opportunities, but there is no mandate for students to participate, according to Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal.

During this national emergency, families are not expected to have a perfect plan for what to do and how to do it. This article provides some basic first steps families can consider while students are doing school in a whole new way. This time of crisis clearly calls for communication, creativity, and unique efforts toward collaboration.

For more about social-emotional support for the family and a couple of videos with mindfulness practices for all ages and abilities, see PAVE’s article, Stay-Home Help: Get Organized, Feel Big Feelings, Breathe.

How long will we do school like this?

Forecasting whether school buildings can safely reopen in Fall 2020 is difficult. Governor Jay Inslee says he will make decisions based on guidance from scientists and medical experts.

Superintendent Reykdal participated in the April 6, 2020, press conference when Gov. Inslee announced that schools would remain closed throughout the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Reykdal has encouraged districts and families to plan for both a reopening and the possibility school facility closures could continue into Fall 2020.

On April 17, 2020, Reykdal addressed special-education parents and students directly. In response to questions that have come to his email inbox, he explained that school districts in Washington have local oversight through school boards, which determine policies. He advised that families and schools should do their best to document what aspects of a student’s special education program are deliverable during distance learning and which services aren’t being provided so that additional learning might be provided through compensatory services when possible.

Addressing parents, Reykdal said, “I want to constantly challenge you to work with your school district and reach out. Make sure you understand who is responsible for delivering those services at this time and whether you think that IEP needs to be revisited. That is the right of parents, and that is the relationship that has to happen on the local level. We’ll keep guiding to this. The expectation is clear. We are delivering special education services. We are delivering supports for students with disabilities. There’s no exemption from that. There’s no waiver from that.”

One way for parents to consider what is most important for learning during the closures is to carefully read through the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, which is the first section in a student’s IEP. Special education attorneys Pam and Pete Wright have published books about special education law and maintain a website, Wrightslaw.com. Included during the pandemic is this page: IEPs During the COVID-19 Era: Your Parental Role and Present Levels in IEPs.

Try for some learning, and document what is going on

During uncertain times, some access to meaningful learning is clearly better than nothing. Each family will need to decide what is workable for everyone involved. Consider that:

  • A 30-minute period of structured learning, a few times a week, may be a worthy and appropriate goal for a family struggling with multiple barriers to educational access.
  • Learning that is incorporated into the family’s routine of meal-preparation, household chores, budgeting, nature walks… might be appropriate to include in a conversation about progress monitoring and educational impact.
  • PAVE provides several short, self-directed video lessons for students to explore social studies, genealogy, science, and more!
  • The whole family might learn together by taking a virtual field trip to a national park or a museum. A few places offering that type of learning are included on PAVE’s list of Links for Learning at Home During School Closure.
  • For students close to graduation or accessing high-school transition programs, PAVE provides additional ideas in an article called High School Halt.

Communication between the school and family is key to figuring out what is appropriate in these unprecedented circumstances. It will be important to document what is or is not provided by the school district, the level of accessibility and contacts or attempted contacts between the school and family.

Decisions about Compensatory Services are up to the IEP team

Families can meet with the IEP team virtually or by phone to discuss whether the student qualifies for compensatory services. Compensatory services are educational opportunities provided outside of regular school to make up for IEP services that were not provided even though the student was available to receive them. A student also might qualify for compensatory services if the standard of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) was not fully met in the provision of special education.

Some students will not be able to receive appropriate compensatory education until school reopens. Others might get some compensatory services through distance learning. What is appropriate and practical is a decision for the IEP team to discuss.

Parents parent, teachers teach

Parents can consider that first and foremost, their role is to parent. The Florida Inclusion Network provides Tips for Families in Supporting Their Children with Disabilities in Virtual Formats, which begins with the recommendation to “remember that your role is a parental one. Your child needs family.” The first tip on the resource goes on to say:

“Teachers are still teaching, just in a virtual format, and with a different schedule. It can be confusing for students if families try to assume the role of teacher. Explain to your child that their teacher is still their teacher, and that you are in communication with the teacher to help them learn at home. While you may feel more pressure with your child at home, try to think of it as a different way of helping your child with learning.”

Start with critical ingredients: meals and learning tools

In some circumstances, schools and families start by talking about access to food and basic resources. Superintendent Reykdal has repeatedly stated that the number one priority of schools throughout the state is to ensure access to nutrition. An interactive map on the website of Educational Service District 113 includes statewide information about where meals are delivered and where families can pick up free food by “Grab-and-Go.”

Some families are navigating how to get basic school supplies, such as pencils, paper, and books. Others seek internet access, cell phones, computers, or assistive technologies to make learning from home more workable.

Families can request help from their school district if they are having a difficult time getting equipment or connectivity. Contact information for school districts, charter schools, tribal schools, and Educational Service Districts is available on a statewide Education Directory.

Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is providing free cell phones and minutes to low-income families through a federal program called Lifeline. State-specific information about this option is available from the Health Care Authority. Some internet providers offer temporarily free plans, and some public spaces, such as libraries, provide internet access in their parking lots.

Language access is protected

Some families face barriers related to language access. Under state and federal law, all parents have the right to information about their child’s education in a language they can understand, and students have a right to accessible learning materials. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides guidance about language-access rights in multiple languages.

Clarify a communication strategy with the school

Finding a practical and consistent way to communicate with the school is critical. A few options are telephone, internet, U.S. Mail, packets delivered by school bus or materials and letters delivered along with meals. OSPI provides a website page for Special Education Guidance for COVID-19. Included is a Question & Answer section with guidance related to school and family communication:

“Districts should consider the need and methods to provide proactive and ongoing communication with parents of students with disabilities. District should identify communication channels to and from parents and ensure there are real-time opportunities for questions and concerns to be responded to and needs addressed.”

Special Education continues, with safety and practicality

Some students with disabilities have individualized needs that are difficult to meet when teaching cannot be hands on. Not every Individualized Education Program (IEP) will be fully implemented during the national crisis. Schools maintain the responsibility, however, to offer reasonable and appropriate access to learning, according to OSPI:

“Districts should prioritize health and safety of students, staff, and communities. Districts should identify and acknowledge service delivery limitations, as well as the need for districts to make every effort to fully implement a student’s IEP or 504 Plan once school resumes. This requirement to ‘make every effort…’ does not allow a district to decline all services to students with an IEP and only offer compensatory services at a later date.”

OSPI recommends a Continuous Learning Plan

A Continuous Learning Plan is a new tool provided by the state to help children of all abilities learn while they are home because of the crisis caused by the pandemic. According to OSPI, “The Continuous Learning Plan is not intended to replace a student’s IEP, but rather to document individual decisions for special education services throughout the duration of the school facility closure.”

The Special Education Continuous Learning Plan is part of a downloadable document published April 7, 2020: Supporting Inclusionary Practices during School Facility Closure. Glenna Gallo, assistant superintendent of special education, worked with many agency partners to design the 31-page guidance document. The introductory paragraphs include the following statement:

“Providing equitable access and instruction during these times will require creative and flexible thinking to support continuous learning, where students and educators are in different locations. Educators and families should explore creative ways to respond to diverse languages, cultures, socio-economic status, abilities, and needs. This resource offers suggestions for sustaining inclusionary practices for students with disabilities through continuous learning opportunities.”

OSPI encourages special education staff to seek ways to talk by phone or meet virtually with families to discuss annual learning goals, evaluations, and other aspects of the IEP. Staff are encouraged to find creative ways to deliver lessons that support meaningful progress toward learning goals—or to set new goals that make sense and contribute to relevant and achievable learning under the circumstances.

Family caregivers who choose to participate in IEP meetings during school facility closures could decide as members of a team to review and amend the IEP. The team might consider the “service matrix,” which is the chart on the IEP document that shows how many minutes of each service a student receives, and which school staff are responsible to provide the service. There is no expectation for IEP services to be delivered exactly as the IEP states during this national emergency, and OSPI encourages districts to prioritize health and safety, student educational needs, and parent communication. Districts have flexibility in how they document decisions made in real-time.

An IEP team might decide to amend the IEP service matrix to reflect services being provided during the closure and to services that will begin once normal school operations resume. Another option is to document on the IEP matrix the services to be provided once school resumes and to use the optional Continuous Learning Plan template to document temporary services provided during the closure.

For general information about the IEP meeting process, whose required to be there, and how to formally request an IEP meeting, see PAVE’s article: Sample Letter to Request an IEP meeting.

The Continuous Learning Plan includes a sample meeting agenda:

  • Welcome and introductions
  • Family communication preferences–tool/modality, frequency, times of day/week, etc.
  • Family supports needed–technology devices, internet access, materials, etc.
  • Prioritize continuous learning activities based on student and family needs.
  • Determine continuous learning services through school facility closure.
  • Begin planning for services and supports once school resumes.

The plan includes space to document an overview of the student’s Present Levels of Performance, which are determined through evaluation and form the basis of specially designed instruction and goal setting. If the Present Levels statements are incomplete or outdated, goal setting and instructional planning can be difficult.

The temporary learning plan has a place to document when an educational evaluation was last provided and when a three-year evaluation is required. School staff and families may need to get creative if new data needs to be collected in order to design a plan that best meets a student’s current or upcoming needs when school resumes.

Other sections of the Continuous Learning Plan help the team consider:

  • Learning Priorities during the school shutdown
  • Continuous Learning Goals, which may match or differ from IEP goals
  • How to measure progress toward Continuous Learning Goals
  • Accommodations/Modifications needed for distance learning
  • Supports that staff and family need during this time
  • How Specially Designed Instruction is delivered, when and by whom
  • Related Services: who, when, how (some schools can access telehealth for speech and occupational therapies, for example)
  • Secondary Transition goals (see PAVE’s article, High School Halt)
  • Plan for eventual return to school
  • Other considerations

Before meeting with the school, family caregivers may want to ask school staff whether they plan to use OSPI’s Continuous Learning Plan agenda. PAVE provides a template family members can use to design their own Handout for the Team to share their specific ideas and concerns.

Big Picture goals to consider

OSPI’s guidance includes the following tenets of inclusionary practices:

  • All students feel a sense of belonging and value, as full members of the school community.
  • All students have access to equitable and high-quality, meaningful instruction.
  • Instruction is culturally responsive, and student and family centered.

When communicating with school staff, families can have these tenets ready and request that each one is addressed somehow through the planning.

Here are additional ideas to help your child learn:

  • Set up comfortable, adaptable spaces for learning. Include alternatives to sitting for children who need variety, sensory support or more movement. If the IEP includes accommodations for special seating, consider if those ideas could work at home.
  • Establish a schedule that includes breaks (recess/nature walks) and activities of daily living. The amount of academic time needs to consider all impacted family members. Here are sample family schedules: COVID 19 Schedule From Motherly, Get-Organized-Mom.com, Homeschool.
  • Make sure the day includes time away from screens to reduce eye strain and fatigue from being in one physical position too long.
  • During academic learning time, limit distractions from siblings, gaming devices, tablets, television shows, etc.
  • Find or create support networks. Some Parent-to-Parent groups are meeting virtually, and individuals can make agreements to check on each other. The Arc of Washington State provides information about regional P2P networks.
  • Be patient with your child, teachers, medical providers, and yourself. No one has ever been here before, and all are trying to figure it out.

PAVE staff are available to provide 1:1 support. Click Get Help at wapave.org to fill out a Helpline Request form. For additional resources related to the pandemic itself, see Links to Support Families During the Coronavirus Crisis.

Training – Introduction to Special Education

Students with disabilities have federal and state protections related to equity and access to Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). During a live webinar March 26, 2020, PAVE provided foundation information about student rights and special education process. A member of the Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff also answered a few questions related to educational access during the school shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information, PAVE provides an article: School Shutdown: Pandemic Guidance for Families also Impacted by Disability. A primary resource for current information is the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, OSPI, which provides a website page related to special education during the COVID-19 outbreak