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COVID-19 HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING ...

ESPECIALLY HOW OUR CHILDREN RECEIVE

SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES

Speech Bubble A+

DESE has announced that for the 2021-2022 academic year, all classes will be in-person and Remote Learning Plans will no longer be used. All services will be provided in accordance with student IEPs and all services should be noted on student IEPs. 

 

If a student is unable to return in-person due to a medical condition, then a physician's authorization needs to be obtained and a Team meeting needs to be convened in order to make alternative arrangements. 

If virtual or telephonic Team meetings worked well for you, you're in luck! Under the law, if the parties agree, they can continue.

There are some resources below and sites to visit to monitor for updates.

For Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's updates on COVID-19, visit: http://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/

For additional information, see Laws and Resources.

Student With Face Mask

August 25, 2021

On August 25th, DESE implemented a Mask Mandate, requiring all public school students, ages 5 and up (and strongly encouraged for younger students), staff, and visitors to wear masks indoors, with certain exceptions (eating, drinking, mask breaks, when outside, etc.).

 

This mandate will be in place through at least October 1, 2021. Public schools include charter schools, vocational technical schools, collaboratives, and approved private special education schools.

 

Exceptions still apply to students with medical or behavioral needs, or disabilities. Disciplinary action for failure to wear a mask has been left to the discretion of individual districts. DESE has encouraged the districts to “consider and implement alternatives before resorting to disciplinary exclusion” and to use a “progressive discipline approach.”

 

Of note, after October 1st, DESE will lift its mask mandate in those schools that have an 80% or more vaccination rate for students and staff.

Click here for guidance.

Smiling Nurse

August 10, 2021

The basics:

 

As of August 10, 2021, new guidance about COVID-19 Protocols in congregate care settings:

  • Weekly surveillance testing of all staff working in congregate care programs

  • Encourage masking more often, even for fully vaccinated people, although staff will continue to wear masks in day programs and group homes, and all visitors will be asked to wear a mask inside programs, even if fully vaccinated

    • Fully vaccinated group home residents are not required to wear a mask in their home. 

    • Individuals served by DDS should follow the public mask guidance in public settings. 

    • All staff are required to wear a mask while working in congregate care programs and day programs. 

  • Encourage COVID-19 vaccinations for all

Click here for full guidance.

Beach Fun

July 14, 2021

The basics:

 

Masks are no longer required. It is encouraged and recommended by the State that school districts adhere to the same guidelines that were in place in the spring, but it is ultimately the districts’ preference how they conduct their programs over the summer. 

 

In-person/Remote School for the fall: Yes, school will be in-person. There is no choice of in-person/remote/hybrid (unless exempted for medical condition ... see my Blog for details). 

Click here to see my Blog for more information on summer mask guidance and in-person learning in the fall.

Girl with Autumn Leaf

Can I Choose Remote Learning For My Child for the Fall 2021?

April 2, 2021

“What if I don’t want Johnny to return to in-person school in the Fall? He has a disability that affects his immune system and he has anxiety and can’t be in school within 3 feet of others. Can I still opt for remote learning?”

Simple answer: Yes. Complicated answer: The school doesn’t have to provide a remote program for you.

 

DESE issued a Memo on April 2, 2021, and the DESE website also states, that all students should be returning to full time in-person learning this Spring unless: (1) the school received a waiver from the state; or (2) the family has chosen full time remote learning instead. Plans for the Summer are to hold intensive remediation programs in-person.

 

In the Fall, the state intends to have all districts return to full time in-person learning and will not require the schools to have remote learning programs. However, DESE has said that they will support schools that wish to start a Virtual School program for families who choose not to return in-person. There are certain types of Virtual School programs that are allowed under Massachusetts law, so the districts would have to make sure the program is in compliance.

 

Again, the answer is that families do not have to return to full time in-person learning in the fall, but the districts will not be required - and will most likely not be providing - remote learning options. In addition to the Virtual School programs that DESE mentioned in its April 2nd Memo, Homeschooling is always a choice.

Alarm Clock

DESE Amendment to Student Learning Time

Effective January 19, 2021

The State is mandating Districts and schools operating a hybrid model to provide students with at least 35 hours of “live instruction” over a 10-school day period, (excluding pre-kindergarten and kindergarten).

 

The Amendment to Student Learning Time has requirements for check-ins and opportunities to interact with educators. 

 

Live instruction means the combination of in-person and remote synchronous instruction.

For students who are doing remote learning, the Districts and schools are to provide at least 40 hours. ​

 

Non-compliance with this regulation or failure to receive a waiver - will result in the District or school making up structured learning time missed due to the non-compliance by the end of the school year. 

For more information, click here.

Analyzing the data

Analyzing the Data to Determine COVID-Compensatory Services

Deadline for "high needs" - December 15, 2020

(No current deadline for other students with disabilities.)

If your child receives special education and related services and is classified as "high needs" or one of the other "priority" classifications by DESE, he/she/they may be entitled to COVID Compensatory Services for loss of skills or knowledge due to the inability to access education during the pandemic. A determination will be made by analyzing data to show regression over the time of the pandemic. Your child may also be entitled to an amended IEP with an additional goal for a newly discovered disability, such as anxiety, given the strain that COVID and remote learning has had on children. For more information, feel free to contact me.

 Kids with  Masks

COVID-19 Metrics for Determining Back to School Model

August 11, 2020

On August 11th, DESE released Guidance based on the Massachusetts DPH's reports of COVID-19 cases in each municipality in the State. The reports will be issued each week on a rolling 2 week basis. The results - or "Metrics" as they are calling it -   is color coded to reflect which municipalities have higher numbers of cases and which have fewer numbers.

DESE suggests that the school districts use the Metrics to determine which model they should return to school with. For instance, if a municipality is "white" or "green" signifying that they have fewer than 5 total cases over the past 14 days or average daily cases per 100,000 is less than 4, respectively, then the state suggests schools reopen with the in-person model.

Other facts come into play, however. In order for a school to open fully in-person, they must be able to meet the DPH health and safety standards. 

For more information, click here then download DESE's

"Guidance for Districts and Schools on Interpreting DPH COVID-19 Metrics — August 11, 2020"

Press Coverage

DESE Announces Back to School Guidance

June 30, 2020

(Revised July 9, 2020)

Click here for DESE's July 9th Comprehensive Update to the June 30th "Initial Return-to-School Guidance" and scroll down to "Comprehensive Special Education Guidance for the 2020-21 School Year - July 9, 2020".

Phone App

New Phone App Tracks Remote Learning

June 30, 2020

At Allexenberg Law, I believe strongly in providing parents with as many resources as possible to lessen their burdens. Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC) created an incredible "App" for parents during remote learning that tracks data in anticipation of compensatory services.

 

Many children with special needs will have failed to make progress during remote learning - and many will have regressed. Each will be entitled to compensatory services to essentially put each one back in the position he/she would have been had there been no interruption in education and services. This is determined on a case-to-case basis and I can assure you that your data will be different than the school's data because you spend more time observing your child.

 

The MAC App can be accessed through your phone by going to https://log.education. Once you initially sign in, you list which child you're tracking, the subject, the date/time, the duration, whether it's in person or virtual/telephonic, and what level of engagement your child had with the service. I tried it ... it's easy! There's even a section for notes, which can prove useful for including specific observations or changes in behavior or communications with teachers or therapists. 

 

You can either try this out for Extended School Year (ESY), if applicable, or for the fall. Thank you MAC!

Girl at Playground

Opening of School Playgrounds

June 20, 2020

School playgrounds will be open this summer.

In Northborough and Southborough, town and school playgrounds will be open on June 20, 2020. 

The following guidelines for families include:

  • All playground users should have a face covering with them at all times. 

  • Users must practice physical distancing by remaining 6 feet away from others, at all times. If 6’ of distancing cannot be maintained, face coverings should be used. 

  • Adults and children should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after visiting this playground. 

  • Please do not leave any toys at the playgrounds, the staff will not clean them.

  • No gatherings of more than 10 people are allowed. 

  • If a playground is crowded, new arrivals should leave and come back or visit another playground.

  • If a playground user feels sick or is recovering from an illness, the user may not visit the playground.

School Children

What will Extended School Year (ESY) Look Like?

June 7, 2020

In-program services have been approved and encouraged across the state. Commissioner Riley stated, consistent with his previous messages, that in-program services will be limited in numbers (priority given to certain students - see link) and districts will have very strict health and safety protocols to follow. DESE's specific guidelines have been set forth as well for all Districts to follow. If they are unable to follow the guidelines, then they are unable to offer the programming.

Transportation - if already provided for in a student's IEP - will still be available if necessary, with strict health and safety guidelines as well.

See "Message about Summer 2020 Special Education Services — June 7, 2020" here

Math Formulas

Virtual Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.

May 18, 2020

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Center for Instructional Support in its ongoing efforts to improve upon remote learning, has established a series of webinars for the districts. The webinars are intended to offer guidance on "prerequisite content standards" for the core academic subjects.

School Bus

Will my child's "Remote Learning Plan" change her IEP?

Short answer, No.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has asked the schools to develop plans for children with special needs so that they receive services while they are home. Since children are not able to meet with their special education teachers, therapists, or paraprofessionals (if applicable) at school face-to-face, this is a plan that your child's team has developed for your child for home learning. There is a "Stay Put" in place and the remote learning plan is temporary. Your child's IEP or 504 will not change unless you have a virtual Team meeting while at home to change your existing Plan.

Go Team

Working together

April 29, 2020

This is an unprecedented time. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education continues to provide guidance to the school districts as to how to provide remote learning. Many schools have already reached out to families and their children who are on IEPs. Your cooperation and understanding with the schools are crucial. Schools are overwhelmed.

 

I think we can agree that no child is going to receive the best education or special education services right now. What we can ask for - and what your child is entitled to -  are the best services available at this time under these circumstances. If, however, you have reached out to your child's teachers and school, and are still not receiving special education services or a remote learning plan (and you have been documenting all of this communication), it may be time to seek legal advice.

Face Mask

Massachusetts Schools Closed

April 21, 2020

click here

Personal Hygiene

MCAS Canceled for Spring

April 10, 2020

click here

Working at Home

DESE Letter to Families about virtual school, IEPs, and virtual Team meetings

April 9, 2020 (updated April 27)

click here

Writing on a Notebook

Do your child's services make you frown? Write it down!

Virtual Schooling Advice

Who can remember every conversation, every communication, or every service (or lack of service) you have had with the school concerning your child's education. Keep a list of everything and keep a folder readily accessible. Ultimately, it helps you, your child, and the school.

Covid 19

Cyberbullying (click here)

Turns out, sticks & stones aren't the only things that hurt.

On March 4, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued an OCR Statement addressing the rise of "stereotyping, harassment, and bullying" toward students in connection with COVID-19.

 

Now that schools have closed and children only have access to peers through the internet, cyberbullying is a concern. Children with disabilities are more vulnerable to bullying than other children. If you believe your child may be victim of bullying by another student, please document any evidence you have and get in touch with your child's school right away.

If this is not a school issue, you could research filing a complaint against the "cyberbully" if the behavior continues. According to an article in ADDitude, "[most internet service providers, websites, and cell phone companies have policies against harassment. You may be able to have the bully’s account revoked.] This may not be feasible during remote learning, but it's something to consider.

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