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Aug 05, 2020
It seems like just yesterday parents across the country breathed a huge sigh of relief that the challenges of remote learning were over and summer was finally here. Now, summer is winding down, the new school year peeks around the corner, and uncertainty seems like the only sure thing. Schools are preparing for a variety of scenarios as the fall semester is rapidly approaching and many are opting to start the school year the same way things ended in the spring - with remote learning. Some kids rocked distance learning and are excited to continue. Other families had a much different experience and now have countless questions about how to meet the needs of their kids, especially those that have 504 plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).
I recently had the pleasure of connecting with Dr. Pepi Silverman, an educational advocate and Director of Bridge Educational Advocacy in Chicago. As a former district level school administrator, Dr. Silverman is well-versed in the rules and regulations that schools must follow in the provision of school-based services. She is also a university professor who teaches future educators.
During our first meeting together, we shared stories about the struggles that so many families faced with remote learning. I quickly noticed how passionate Pepi was about wanting to be sure that all students will get what they need to be successful in the event that distance learning continues for this upcoming school year. I am excited to have had the opportunity to collaborate with her and share her expertise to help families be prepared for remote learning this fall.
In our conversation, I asked Dr. Silverman about some of the most pressing questions I've been hearing from other parents and compiled her answers for this article. Hopefully, her perspective will help prepare you to face the uncertainty of this new school year with a few more tools in your self-advocacy kit.
Dr. Silverman: First and foremost, I would look at their current IEP and 504 plans, reflect on the spring semester, and determine what specifically about remote learning was challenging. Then, it's important to see how we can apply those insights to this year's remote learning and accommodations.
For IEPs specifically, I'd also recommend revisiting the accommodations to make sure that remote learning isn’t sacrificing the IEP. Just because remote learning is new doesn’t mean we should forget about the IEP and its importance. We have to merge the two concepts to ensure that each student’s needs are being met.
Unfortunately, far too many parents are unaware that they have the ability to question or adjust the IEP and accommodation options. As a result, many families accept whatever was presented because it was a response to a crisis.
Dr. Silverman: This is a tricky one, but making this time a social activity can be a great way to supplement the individual services your child is receiving from a social worker.
Here's one thing you can try - talk about emotions while sitting at the dinner table or while you're watching TV together, for instance. If you're watching a movie together, try pausing at various points and ask your child: “What do you think the character is feeling?” Share your own thoughts and observations so you can explore this together. Although this, of course, isn't a full replacement for real socializing, it does help train the part of the brain responsible for picking up on others feelings.
Lastly, your child’s social worker may also have great video resources that you can watch together and discuss. For example, Social Thinking by Michelle Garcia Winner is an excellent resource. Regardless, most teams of social workers should be able to make recommendations based on a child’s specific needs.
Dr. Silverman: Distance learning will have to be different for your son because he struggled in the spring. When a student has a 504 plan or IEP, the supports in place should do no “harm” (i.e. failing classes, negatively affecting self-esteem). It’s ok to express how the current system is not working for your son so that you can ensure he is getting what he needs to be successful.
Here are two things that may be helpful to explore with your son’s teachers:
Dr. Silverman: First, you can go back to the IEP and reference what was provided last spring. You might have more information to share based on your experience with remote learning. If you feel that something is not working, you can request a review of the services being provided under the current IEP and make adjustments. Clear, consistent communication is key to the entire process. You’ll want to share examples with your child’s team to ensure that he’s getting what he needs.
Also, a shared Google Doc can be very helpful to gather information. Everyone can have an open, free flowing modality for communication so that you are all on the same page. Since remote learning does not always allow for real time feedback, you can also take videos of your child trying to work independently and send it to the team as they gather more data.
Dr. Silverman: Start by making a list of educational needs based on performance issues from the onset of spring 2020’s online instruction. To do this effectively, review all progress updates and report card data and compare it to student performance before the start of remote learning.
Next, consider the difficulties demonstrated by your child and include the necessary school personnel who could support any new additional support services.Then, prepare a parent concern statement, with feedback from your child, if appropriate, about the challenges experienced during remote learning.
Lastly, once a new plan is proposed, establish a timeline to reconvene the school team to assess the efficacy of any new services to ensure that a measurement process is incorporated into all future educational considerations
Dr. Silverman: Many parents are anxious about how schools will assess a students’ readiness for this upcoming school year. Ask for concrete information about your child’s academic performance to help alleviate some of that anxiety. Some questions you can ask include:
Dr. Silverman: If you are weighing your options between remote learning, in-person instruction, or a hybrid model, consider the following:
If your child does not do well with changes and transitions, it might be more difficult for them to switch back and forth between in-person and remote learning. No matter which option you choose, developing routines and schedules will help with consistency and accountability. Create routines that separate their school life from their home life. Some ideas include:
Dr. Silverman: No matter what situation your family finds itself in this coming fall, it's important to custom build your own process to properly accommodate your child's unique needs. Ongoing communication will be key to supporting student success, but also remember that learning is a dynamic activity; the more your child collaborates with you and others, the more they'll learn. With proper preparation and planning, you may even find that this fall semester can be a success for all. If parents have any other questions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
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Angela Molloy, MA, is an Outreach Coordinator and coach with Beyond BookSmart. Angela meets with professionals throughout the greater Chicagoland area. She has expertise in supporting students with diverse executive function challenges, as well as a deep understanding of the evidence-based methodology of behavior change. Angela is also a licensed professional educator and school counselor in Illinois. She earned her Master’s degree in school counseling from Roosevelt University and her undergraduate degree in psychology and communication studies from Elmhurst College. Angela believes that all students are capable of achieving success and individual differences should be welcomed for the strengths they bring to a student’s education.