The more things change, the more they stay the same.
A year ago, students and staff in Pennsylvania schools packed up classrooms and prepared to stay home for two weeks as directed by the Governor in response to COVID-19. The closure eventually extended for the remainder of the school year. Schools worked to resume instruction via remote means and tackled the task of ensuring all students could access instruction in disparate circumstances. This school year, schools, students and parents continue to adapt to changing circumstances in response to the challenges presented by the pandemic.
What Has Changed
Not as much as you might think. Schools created health and safety plans for re-opening for the 2020-21 school year. These plans were revised and revisited many times in response to changing public health information and recommendations.
All schools re-opened for instruction for the 2020-21 school year, employing a variety of instructional modalities. Most schools have accessed more than one instructional modality, based on local levels of COVID cases and in response to individual health concerns or needs.
Students and teachers have learned new ways to be in school. Some teachers have worked remotely while teaching their own children at home. Some students have stayed with alternate caregivers to continue school when the work schedule of their parents does not allow them to remain at home during the school day. Students engaged in in-person instruction have adapted to new routines and socially-distanced classroom activities.
What Is The Same?
Everything else. Statutory obligations to provide instructional time and the accommodations and services needed to enable students with disabilities to access education remain in place. Therefore:
- Schools complete evaluations to identify student needs and recommend interventions.
- Schools continue to monitor student progress and meet to discuss how best to meet student needs within the current educational environment.
- Schools continue to monitor student attendance and facilitate discussions to remove barriers to consistent student engagement.
- Throughout the pandemic, schools have ensured that students have access to breakfast and lunch.
These efforts continued over the summer in addition to the school year.
As COVID numbers decrease and access to vaccines increases, schools continue to monitor student needs and determine appropriate instructional modalities in light of local health concerns. The process will include a review of what has and has not worked well during the year of COVID. Remote instructional methodologies may be used in the future when student needs preclude in-person attendance. Teachers and other staff may have opportunities to work remotely as well in some circumstances. Some of the changes made to daily routines may continue into the future.
As students return to full time in-person instruction, schools must determine whether students receiving special education services have demonstrated regression in skills. This discussion will include review of performance data before COVID and following return to regular school programming. Progress monitoring can resume when students return to full time in-person instruction. Schools will offer COVID Compensatory Services to students who have not recouped performance levels within a reasonable period of time following return to their regular school setting.
Bottom Line for Schools
Schools should continue to carefully consider health and safety concerns for staff and students when determining appropriate instructional models. Schools should prioritize supports for staff to accommodate individual health concerns and acknowledge and problem-solve with those who are juggling work and care for their own children who may be learning from home. Schools must always make decisions based on data – student performance data as well as community health data. When communicating with parents, transparency and willingness to engage in open discussion remain as important as ever.
If you have a question, please contact your legal counsel or one of the Special Education attorneys at KingSpry.
School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.