TASH Statement on Inclusive and Remote Learning during COVID-19
As school systems determine how to move education forward in the 2020-2021 school year, a conscious choice must be made to design overtly equitable and inclusive educational structures, policies, and practices. The following principles will promote access, equity, and progress for students with significant support needs.
Planning must begin with the expectation that all students, including students with significant support needs, are engaged with, and included in learning and social communities with grade-level peers with and without disabilities for the majority of their school day. Building an equitable system requires planning that begins with students with significant support needs in mind, rather than considering their needs after determining what the typical school experience will be.
Meeting Students’ Needs
Protecting Health & Safety. Although most school districts will likely use a combination of in-person and remote teaching and learning, a few districts may be able to allow some students to return to in-person schooling full time. Students with the highest needs should be prioritized for any in-person teaching, and this would include students with significant support needs. The use of precautions such as masks for those who can wear them, social distancing and frequent disinfecting is essential. However, many students with significant support needs also experience complex health care needs that put them at high risk if they were to contract the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams, families, general educators, and technology specialists must work together to expand and improve remote teaching and learning opportunities for students with significant support needs.
Expanding and Improving Remote Teaching and Learning. Each student with significant support needs will require a remote teaching and learning plan based on the student’s individual strengths and needs. This plan should be included in an amended IEP. A district team consisting of general and special educators, related service personnel, assistive technology, family member or advocate and educational technology specialists must collaborate to develop plans to engage each student with significant support needs in remote teaching and learning activities.
Providing Student Supports. Academic, behavioral, and social-emotional supports that help students with significant support needs to learn and make progress in the general education curriculum with their grade-level general education peers are essential. These supports include specially designed and adapted instruction, Augmentative and Alternative Communication systems and modeling, individualized instruction, supplementary aids and services, access to related services, accommodations, assistive technology, peer networks and supports, and specialized equipment to maintain physical health.
Staying on Track. Both in-person and remote Instruction must enable students to stay on track for the next grade and toward eventual post-school success. There must be clarity about the critical standards-based knowledge and skills and IEP goals the student is to gain each week. This population of students is at increased risk for serious academic, behavioral, and social regression. To address possible regression and support progress, systematic progress monitoring of each student through instructionally based formative assessment is necessary.
Supporting Family, Educator, and School Leader
School districts must respond to potential changes in the status of the COVID-19 virus and ensure that families, educators, and school leaders have efficient access to information and materials essential to the needs of students with significant support needs during this time. These supports include but are not limited to technology support, collaborative planning time, ongoing opportunities for problem-solving, specialized supports needed at home, and workable solutions for student progress-monitoring.
Family. School teams should identify one person who will communicate in the family’s first language directly with the family about the student’s academic, behavioral, and social-emotional needs. Many families will need specific instruction, specialized equipment and support to help their child engage with remote teaching and learning activities. Access to equipment at home needs to be written into the IEP.
Educator. General and special educators, therapists, counselors, and others involved in the student’s learning plan must have the time, professional development, and resources necessary to collaborate, model, and support student engagement in remote teaching and learning. To support this collaboration, typical roles should be re-evaluated to determine ways to reduce paperwork burdens for those providing instruction and therapy.
School Leader. Leaders must have accurate and up-to-date information from the state, district, and school personnel to inform policy and practice decisions for students with significant support needs.
Supporting Transition & Community
Transition from secondary education to employment, postsecondary education, and community engagement remain critical educational outcomes for individuals with significant support needs. Engaging and maintaining community supports and services, including employment opportunities, educational opportunities, social engagement opportunities, and independent and community living opportunities are essential to the emotional and physical health of individuals with significant support needs.