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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Government Accountability Office Report Shows That Students With Disabilities Struggle With Remote Learning

 

A student works on a distance learning assignment in his kitchen. Investigators with the Government Accountability Office
found that schools had a hard time providing all of the services called for in students' special education plans when they
shifted to distance learning in the spring as a result of COVID-19. (James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

Schools Have Struggled To Fulfill IEPs Amid Pandemic, Government Report Finds

by Shaun Heasley, Disability ScoopNovember 30, 2020

Government investigators are offering up some of the first details about how schools fared in addressing the needs of students with disabilities when they shuttered at the start of the pandemic.

report out this month from the Government Accountability Office dives into how schools managed special education and services for English learners during the switch to distance learning in the spring of the 2019-2020 academic year, finding that by and large, they struggled.

The investigation was conducted as part of GAO’s oversight responsibilities under the CARES Act, a federal COVID-19 relief package passed earlier this year.

For the report, government investigators reviewed distance learning plans from 15 school districts that have high proportions of either students with disabilities or English learners. Officials with four of the districts were interviewed as were advocates, researchers, and representatives from national organizations of school administrators and other service providers.

“The rapid shift to distance learning in spring 2020, after nearly all U.S. school buildings were closed to prevent the spread of the virus, laid bare both the logistical and instructional challenges of educating students via distance learning, particularly certain subgroups of students with additional needs, such as English learners and students with disabilities,” wrote Jacqueline M. Nowicki, director of education, workforce and income security issues at GAO, and her colleagues in the report.

Investigators found that “a variety of factors complicated the delivery of special education services during distance learning.” In particular, the broad range of needs among students with disabilities as well as the variety of services called for in their individualized education programs posed a significant challenge. What’s more, the ability of parents and caregivers to help students with disabilities played a role.

“Delivering related services — such as occupational therapy, physical therapy or speech therapy — for students with complex needs was particularly difficult to do remotely,” GAO noted.

School officials told investigators that they were able to meet some of the challenges by altering instruction, having virtual meetings with parents and promoting more collaboration between educators and with families. In some cases, they said that children’s goals and services were modified through temporary distance learning plans.

Some changes, like the use of virtual meetings, could continue even when children return to in-person classes, GAO said.

In the interim, advocates told government investigators that “providing students with the services they need remains an ongoing challenge.”

Families Say Mask Policy Discriminates Against Students In Special Ed

by Kristen Taketa, The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS | November 17, 2020

SAN DIEGO — Erin Coller’s 5-year-old son, who has an intellectual disability and autism, is not allowed to go to school because he can’t wear a mask.

Cadman has sensory defensiveness, which means he is hypersensitive and overreacts to certain stimuli. He especially doesn’t tolerate anything on his head or face, not even a hat, and he rips off masks in seconds, Coller said.

Cadman’s school, Hawthorne Elementary in San Diego Unified, has invited him to come to school to work with a teacher for up to 30 minutes a week. It’s part of San Diego Unified’s Phase One reopening, which so far has provided about 3,000 students with in-person support sessions.

But his teacher and principal told Coller that Cadman can’t come indoors if he won’t wear a mask — no exceptions, Coller said. Instead they could do a socially distanced greeting in the parking lot, Coller was told.

Coller said she is desperate for Cadman to get in-person instruction because he is learning little to nothing through distance learning at home and is failing to meet the academic goals in his special education plan. Coller said she feels frustrated and helpless.

“The lack of flexibility from the school district is making a challenging situation even more difficult,” she said.

San Diego Unified’s mask policy, which does not provide in-person learning accommodations for students who are unable to wear a face covering, is raising alarm among parents and attorneys who believe the policy may violate federal laws that outline rights for people with disabilities.

“It’s blatant discrimination,” said Gabriela Torres, senior staff attorney at nonprofit Disability Rights California, who said she has received two dozen calls and emails from families since last week about the mask issue.

San Diego Unified officials say their strict universal mask policy is based on guidance they received from University of California San Diego health and science experts and is crucial for preventing COVID-19 transmission.

The district is not allowing anyone without a face covering onto school campuses — even though county guidance says students who are medically exempt from wearing a face covering cannot legally be excluded from campus.

State public health guidelines specifically provide mask exemptions for people with a disability, mental health conditions or medical conditions that prevent mask-wearing.

For example, some people may have a facial deformity that prevents wearing a mask. Some people with disabilities drool and would collect drool in their mask if they wore one. In certain cases, people could suffocate or choke if they wore a mask.

For others with sensory issues, like Cadman, wearing a mask has an emotional or psychological impact, and they don’t tolerate it.

Schools are supposed to accommodate students with disabilities if they can’t wear a mask, county officials say. Students with disabilities cannot be automatically excluded from school if they can’t wear a mask, according to legal counsel with the San Diego County Office of Education.

“The school has to find other solutions to address contact concerns,” county office spokeswoman Music Watson said in an email.

For example, county officials suggest schools work with a student’s parents to use a mask alternative, such as a face shield with a drape or a plexiglass barrier between the student and teacher. If a student can’t wear any kind of face covering, the teacher should wear a face shield and mask or an N95 mask, if the school has a plan for proper use of N95 masks.

Not wearing a mask indoors significantly increases the risk of COVID-19 spread, said Dr. Howard Taras, a University of California San Diego pediatrician who is a consultant for schools in the area including San Diego Unified.

Taras sees the mask dilemma as a situation of opposing rights: the right of children to attend school safely and the right of children who can’t wear a mask to be in school.

“My struggle as a doctor and what I am working on is to be able to satisfy both of those rights,” he said.

For students who can’t wear a mask due to disability, San Diego Unified is looking at having them wear other face coverings that are farther away from the face, said Sarah Ott, district special education executive director, at a meeting earlier this month of the Community Advisory Committee that advises the district on special education.

The bottom line is students have to wear some kind of face covering so the air they breathe out goes through a cloth, Taras said.

When a parent asked district officials to confirm that San Diego Unified is not offering accommodations for students who can’t wear a face covering, Ott replied: “The accommodation is online learning.”

Torres and Moira Allbritton, an executive member of the Community Advisory Committee, said online learning is not an appropriate education or accommodation for many students with disabilities.

“It’s so offensive, especially for our students with moderate to severe disabilities who are just gaining next to nothing,” Allbritton said in an interview. “I think some families could make the case that (online learning) is actually harming their children.”

Cadman still is struggling with distance learning. He doesn’t sit down at the computer unless somebody is constantly watching him and giving him tokens for accomplishments such as making eye contact with the computer screen, Coller said.

Coller has to keep the computer away from Cadman so that he can’t close or throw it, she said, and she feeds him meals during distance learning sessions, which helps him stay seated longer.

According to federal education law, student special education plans must be tailored to meet the student’s specific needs, and schools must revise those plans if students fail to make expected progress.

Depending on the student, state guidance says schools may need to serve students with disabilities in-person for the sake of their mental or physical health and to help students access distance learning.

Taras said last week that he recommends that San Diego Unified teach students who can’t wear masks in outdoor classrooms, with physical distancing, because the risk of transmission is lower outside than indoors. It’s unclear how much San Diego schools will use outdoor classrooms when they reopen in Phase Two, which is planned for January.

In the meantime, Taras said, parents can and should be teaching their children how to tolerate masks, gradually increasing the time they wear a mask. Because the pandemic could be around for the next two years or so, Taras said, mask-wearing is as essential as other life skills that parents teach their children with developmental disabilities, such as fastening buttons.

“We want them to have that skill for the next two years … because we want them to have richer lives also, and not just in school,” Taras said.

© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Mayor Reopens Elementary Schools on December 7, 2020, and Phases Out Hybrid Learning

Credit...Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

Suddenly, schools - some schools - will reopen on December 7, 2020:

Students in 3-K, Pre-K, and grades K through 5 will return to in-person learning beginning on Monday, December 7

o   This includes all students in 3-K and pre-K programs and elementary grades K through 5, across school types (e.g., in K-2 schools, K-3 schools, K-5 schools, as well as District Pre-K Centers,  K-8 schools, and K-12 schools).  
o   This excludes schools currently located in State-designated Red and Orange Zones. You can see if your school is in a Red or Orange Zone at http://nyc.gov/covidzone.
 
·         Students in all grade levels in District 75 schools will return to in-person learning beginning on Thursday, December 10
o   This excludes schools currently located in State-designated Red or Orange Zones. 
 
·         Students in grades 6 through 12 (outside of District 75 schools) will continue to learn remotely until further notice.
 
·         These return dates apply to all students in blended learning, including those who selected blended learning during the recent opt-in period. Students who selected remote-only instruction will remain in remote only.

See the NYC DOE website below for more.

Betsy Combier

Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials   


New York City Will Reopen Elementary Schools and Phase Out Hybrid Learning
NY TIMES, November 29, 2020


Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an abrupt shift in managing schools during the pandemic. Officials had faced criticism that they prioritized activities like indoor dining over the well-being of children.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday that he would reopen public elementary schools, abruptly shifting policy in the face of widespread criticism that officials were placing more of a priority on economic activities like indoor dining than the well-being of New York City’s children.

Mr. de Blasio said that middle and high schools would remain closed, but he also signaled that he would overhaul how the city manages schools during the pandemic, which has forced millions of children in the United States out of schools and is widely perceived to have done significant damage to their education and mental health.

The mayor said the city would abandon a 3 percent test positivity threshold that it had adopted for closing the school system, the largest in the country, with 1.1 million children. And he said the system would aim to give most parents the option of sending their children to school five days a week, which would effectively end the so-called hybrid learning system.

Students can return only if they have already signed up for in-person learning, meaning fewer than 335,000 of the city’s schoolchildren, or roughly a third, are even eligible.

Children in pre-K and elementary school can return starting Dec. 7. Mr. de Blasio also announced that students with the most complex disabilities can return on Dec. 10.

“Whatever happens ahead, we want this to be the plan going forward,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “We know what we didn’t know over the summer, we know what works from actual experience.”

Starting in the summer, Mr. de Blasio sought to make New York the first big city in the country to fully reopen its public school system. After a series of logistical and political problems forced the mayor to twice delay the start of in-person classes, the city welcomed hundreds of thousands of children back into classrooms about two months ago.

Reopening, despite its many issues, was seen as a major milestone in the city’s long path to recovery. But less than eight weeks after school buildings reopened, Mr. de Blasio on Nov. 18 again shut schools down as a second wave of the outbreak threatened the city.

Still, the number of cases in the school system itself remained very low, so Mr. de Blasio’s decision became a flashpoint in a broader debate throughout the country and the world over what should be closed during the pandemic. Officials have wrestled with whether to keep classrooms open while forcing restaurants and bars, which are far more likely to spread the virus, to shut their doors.

Mr. de Blasio does not directly control regulations regarding indoor dining, gyms, and other facilities — those are the purview of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Mr. de Blasio’s announcement on Sunday reflects a stark departure from the city’s original approach to managing the schools during the outbreak.

The new blueprint represents the city’s second shot at reopening, after the first attempt was plagued by problems and his threshold to close schools was roundly criticized by parents, politicians, and public health experts.

Instead of using a specific metric to close schools, the city will now closely monitor the number of classrooms and schools that close because of multiple confirmed virus cases.

And the mayor had long insisted that the entire public school system should reopen and that every student, from kindergarten through 12th grade, should have the option of learning in person.

Now, the nation’s largest public school district will operate more like other systems across the country that have reopened, by offering classroom instruction only to young children and students with disabilities.

Since Mr. de Blasio first announced his plan to reopen schools in July, mounting evidence has shown that elementary schools, in particular, can be relatively safe, as long as schools follow strict safety protocols.

New York’s schools had extremely low test positivity rates during the roughly eight weeks they were open this fall, and there was wide agreement from everyone from the president of the teachers’ union to the mayor’s top public health officials that schools were safer than they had anticipated.

When school buildings reopen, the city will significantly increase its random testing in schools: rather than testing a sampling of students and staff in each school building once a month, the city will conduct tests weekly. Students will not be allowed to attend school in person unless they have signed consent forms from their parents, allowing them to be tested.

Nothing else about New York City’s safety plan will change: all staff members and students will still be required to wear masks throughout the day, and social distancing will be mandated. But the city will largely shed its hybrid learning plan, under which children physically attended school a few days a week and learned remotely the rest of the time.

The hybrid learning plan was undercut from the start by a series of rules about who could teach and when which had been agreed upon by the teachers’ union and City Hall. 

Teachers could not be required to teach both in-person and online on the same day and were discouraged from live-streaming lessons in the classroom to children at home, even though other school districts and private schools have adopted that practice. 

Many principals and teachers said the rules were nearly impossible to follow, and some schools disregarded them. Some large high schools urged students to stay remote full time, so that schools could more easily offer electives and advanced courses. As a result, in-person high school enrollment has been relatively low. 

Parents said that children were delighted to be back in classrooms, even just once or twice a week, but that the quality of education provided under the hybrid plan was sometimes lacking. 

Now, hybrid is on its way out in New York City.

That’s partially because students chose in-person learning at far lower rates than Mr. de Blasio had hoped and expected. After predicting over the summer that about 75 percent of the school system would return for classroom instruction come fall, the city recently revealed that just under a third of students actually chose in-person learning.

The percentage of students who can return to classrooms in the coming days will certainly be lower than that, since middle and high school students who opted for in-person classes no longer have that option.

City data has shown that white families, who make up just 15 percent of the public school system, have chosen all-remote learning at the lowest rates.

That means that white students may have a disproportionate presence in city classrooms once they are reopened, and can attend school full time, while hundreds of thousands of children of color may be learning from home until next fall.

The mayor said earlier this fall that families would not have an opportunity to switch from remote to in-person classes for the rest of the school year, so the number of children who return to classrooms next month could be mostly set.

The city’s principals will be forced to once again entirely reprogram their schools, but the new plan will eliminate the need for constant coordination between students learning at home part-time and those learning remotely full time, which was extraordinarily complex and frustrating for educators and parents.

Remote learning has been particularly disastrous for the roughly 24,000 children in New York’s District 75, a set of schools for children with disabilities who require the most intensive support, which includes students on the autism spectrum and children with serious cognitive delays.

Online learning simply was not an option, and their parents have spent months asking the city to get their children back into classrooms as often as possible.

Still, there are about 176,000 other children with disabilities in city public schools, including many middle and high schools. It is unclear how many of those students will be able to return to classrooms.


Eliza Shapiro is a reporter covering New York City education. She joined The Times in 2018 and grew up in New York, attending public and private schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn. @elizashapiro



Schools During Coronavirus ›

Back to School

Updated Nov. 27, 2020

The latest on how the pandemic is reshaping education.


We are sharing the attached letter and consent form which discusses the school building re-opening schedule and required consent for mandatory in-school testing. Translations of the family letter will be available as soon as possible at schools.nyc.gov/messagesforfamilies

Students in 3-K, Pre-K, and grades K through 5 will return to in-person learning beginning on Monday, December 7

o   This includes all students in 3-K and pre-K programs and elementary grades K through 5, across school types (e.g., in K-2 schools, K-3 schools, K-5 schools, as well as District Pre-K Centers,  K-8 schools, and K-12 schools).  
o   This excludes schools currently located in State-designated Red and Orange Zones. You can see if your school is in a Red or Orange Zone at http://nyc.gov/covidzone.
 
·         Students in all grade levels in District 75 schools will return to in-person learning beginning on Thursday, December 10
o   This excludes schools currently located in State-designated Red or Orange Zones. 
 
·         Students in grades 6 through 12 (outside of District 75 schools) will continue to learn remotely until further notice.
 
·         These return dates apply to all students in blended learning, including those who selected blended learning during the recent opt-in period. Students who selected remote-only instruction will remain in remote only.

 Students and staff who have recently traveled outside of New York to a place on the State’s travel advisory list must quarantine for 14 days or test out of the 14-day quarantine based on the State’s guidance, which can be found here. Staff and students should continue to complete the health questionnaire daily.
 
As always, our first commitment is to health and safety for all of our DOE community, above and beyond everything else. Your tireless efforts have made it possible for our schools to re-open for in-person learning.
 
Here is how we collectively can help keep them open:
·         Mandatory Weekly Testing: To ensure schools remain a safe and healthy place to learn, all schools will have 20% of students and staff tested on a weekly basis.  
 
·         Student Consent: All students are required to provide consent for testing by December 7 or by their first scheduled in-person learning day. If a student arrives on their first day of in-person without a consent form in hand or submitted online, you must call their parent or guardian that day to collect consent immediately. Guidance to enter consent in ATS will be provided in Tuesday’s Principals Digest.
o   Families can submit consent using NYCSA or this updated consent form (also attached to this email)Please note that even if parents previously provided consent, we are asking them to submit again to ensure they have the updated consent form for their child that reflects the requirement for weekly testing in your school. Note that the consent form was updated on Wednesday, October 14 to reflect this change.
o   Students who need a medical exemption (available for all students) or disability-based exemption (available for students with IEPs) will be able to submit separate forms for approval. Principals will receive more information this week for distribution to families by Monday.
o   Students without consent and who do not have a medical exemption or disability-based exemption will be moved to fully remote instruction.





Saturday, November 28, 2020

Mayor de Blasio Says He Plans To Reopen Schools This Week

 

Chancellor Carranza (left) and Mayor de Blasio (right)

Great news! The second school reopening plan will be sent out this week, the first week of December 2020.

Before you rejoice too much, consider the fact that your definition of a "plan" may be different than that of either Chancellor Richard Carranza or Mayor Bill de Blasio.

I'm just suggesting that we look at the history behind the "planning" of the Carranza-de Blasio" regime. It seems, in our opinion, to be lacking some necessary elements, such as expert input, careful and thorough data collection, and timely production.

Here is a definition of the word "Plan":

Definition of plan

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a drawing or diagram drawn on a plane: such as
aa top or horizontal view of an object
ba large-scale map of a small area
2aa method for achieving an end
ban often customary method of doing somethingPROCEDURE
ca detailed formulation of a program of action
dGOALAIM
3an orderly arrangement of parts of an overall design or objective
4a detailed program (as for payment or the provision of some service)pension plan

plan

 verb
plannedplanning

Definition of plan (Entry 2 of 3)

transitive verb

1to arrange the parts of DESIGNplan a new layout
2to devise or project the realization or achievement ofplanned their escape
3to have in mindINTENDplans to leave soon

intransitive verb

1to make plansplan ahead
2to have a specified intention used with onplans on going
Parents Protest
variants: or plano-

Definition of plan- (Entry 3 of 3)

1flatplanography
2flat andplano-concave

Other Words from plan

Noun

planless \ ˈplan-​ləs  \ adjective
planlessly adverb
planlessness noun
The point is, the word "Plan" is thrown around a lot by the Carranza-de Blasio duo, and maybe they should define exactly what they mean. Or maybe not.

Their closing/opening of schools seems to be haphazard and not thought-out, and with so many lives impacted by these decisions, we think there is something wrong with the so-called "planning" supposedly going on by the City of New York.

Betsy Combier

Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials   


Mayor promises to provide second school reopening plan next week
Public school families should expect to receive details on the city’s second school reopening plan next week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday.

Mayor de Blasio issued a systemwide shutdown of public schools for the second time this year after the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average hit 3 percent last week. The shutdown signaled the end of in-person classes for 300,000 of the city’s roughly 1.1 million public school students enrolled in blended learning.

Since the second shutdown, officials have said they are working on a plan to bring students back into the classroom. Students will most likely return to the school in phases with the city’s most severely handicapped students, also referred to as District 75 students, come back first followed by the city’s youngest learnings and then elementary, middle and high school students.

“We will find a way back through this pandemic because we proved we can keep our schools safe but we are going to have to come back a different way given some of the challenges we’re facing with this second wave bearing down on us,” de Blasio said.

City Hall reported on Wednesday 1,445 new cases of the virus within the last day and a COVID-19 positivity rate of 2.74 percent and a city positivity rate based on a seven-day rolling average of 3.05 percent. In addition, the mayor said 141 New York City residents were admitted to hospitals with suspected COVID-19 with 45 percent testing positive for the virus.

Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly emphasized that COVID testing will play a more critical role in the city’s second en masse school reopening plan and that students interested in taking in-person classes will need to have a signed COVID-19 testing parental consent form on file before being allowed to return to school buildings.

In a letter shared with public school families on Tuesday, City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza told parents that the deadline to submit a consent form will be the first day their student is scheduled to return to school for in-person classes.

“The increasing levels of COVID-19 infections overall in the city are very concerning, and we must strengthen precautions further for our school communities,” the letter reads. “Therefore, no student will be permitted to return to the building without a signed consent form for in-school testing. Your consent must be submitted by the first day your child resumes in-person learning.”

The city plans to increase how frequently students and staffers are tested for the virus at schools once they reopen but has yet to decide on exactly how often or what percentage of school communities will be tested. Before the shutdown, about 20 percent of all students and staff were tested for COVID-19 every month. The new testing policy will most likely be influenced by state COVID-19 zone designations, each of which has its own testing requirements for schools offering in-person learning.

Mayor de Blasio has warned on multiple occasions that city COVID-19 data projects the state will likely declare most of the city an “orange zone” by the first week of December. In an “orange zone,” services at houses of worship are restricted to 33 percent capacity; gatherings are capped at 10 people; and schools must be closed for four consecutive days. If a school wishes to reopen, all adults and children must show a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed to re-enter the building and 25 percent of all students and staff must then be tested weekly for the virus.

On Wednesday, de Blasio added that city officials will focus on figuring out testing protocols first for District 75 students and early childhood students followed by elementary school students.

When asked by reporters why he had not figured out a school reopening plan ahead of COVID infections reaching the city-set threshold of 3 percent, de Blasio admitted that in hindsight his administration could have done more to prepare.

“In retrospect, clearly it would have been better,” he said.” But the important point is getting to the 3 percent meant something. It meant there was a problem. It meant we were dealing with a second wave bearing down on us.”

This story originally appeared on amny.com.