For parents of students with disabilities, the upcoming school year could be more challenging than ever.
From struggles with virtual only learning to getting back safely in the classroom, it's a lot to think about.
WPTV spoke to several school districts about how they are getting ready to connect with those students and their families for the upcoming school year.
Starting the school year in front of a computer in her Palm Beach County home in a few weeks isn't ideal for Tiffany Young's granddaughter.
"Not having the guidance of somebody sitting right there on top of each saying, pay attention, get back to work, do you need a little help with this? It just fell short," said Young, when referring to how the last round of distance learning went in the spring.
Young’s granddaughter has a condition that puts her on individual education plan, or IEP.
She's one of more than 31,000 students with disabilities on an IEP in the Palm Beach County School District.
Young says her granddaughter is falling behind and virtual-only learning will make it worse
"Everything is just building and compacting and compacting on top of each other to where I don't know how we make it out of this," said Young.
The Palm Beach County school district did not offer an on-camera interview for this report.
A spokesperson pointed us to school board meetings that took place in mid-July.
At one of those meetings, the district exceptional student education director raised concerns about doing face to face student evaluations online.
Those are a key part of the i-e-p program.
At the meeting, Palm Beach County Schools ESE director Kevin McCormick said, “Right now people are trying to figure it out, but right now even our publishers at this point are struggling to establish a format to be able to conduct these evaluations in an acceptable manner to be used for decision making."
The St. Lucie, Indian River, Okeechobee and Martin County school districts are coming back this school year with a blend of in-school teaching and online classes.
The St. Lucie County School District has 5,200 IEP students.
St. Lucie County schools ESE director Bill Tomlinson said teachers will have the proper protective equipment on.
Tomlinson knows it might take time for students with disabilities to wear masks where they can't social distance at brick and mortar schools.
Tomlinson said, "Children rise to expectations and it's not we never lower those expectations we're going to continue to teach those expected behaviors."
St. Lucie County guidelines for IEP families:
- School-Based Teams are currently reaching out to parents to make sure they have selected one of the three learning options. In many cases the schools will convene an IEP team meeting to work with the parents to discuss how services will be provided.
- District is updating the Safe Return to School Plan online weekly. This will include specific information about IEP students.
- *For all students but especially IEP students: Schools will have intentional dedicated time each day to address social and emotional learning and have steps in place to provide counseling services for children.
A similar sentiment from the Okeechobee and Martin County students.
Martin County guidelines for IEP families:
- ESE has made more than 500 phone calls over the last few weeks to address specific guidance for IEP students. If you didn’t get a call, you need to call the school district.
- If for some reason an identified accommodation is not possible in a virtual learning environment, an IEP plan meeting will be held with the parent, reviewing alternatives,
- Assessments that must be completed in-person to assure the validity and will be conducted face-to-face, with all public health and district guidelines for safety are observed.
Okeechobee County guidelines for IEP families:
- District is actively scheduling students right now into the Virtual program
- Some IEP’s are being updated to include virtual learning
Indian River County:
“I think the overarching theme is accessibility," said. ESE Director Matina Pappalardo. "Accessibility to technology, accessibility to support, accessibility to building capacity in terms of education about what we can offer. I think the reality is we look at the individual IEP’s and we have staff that are able to do that at every single school. The IEP teams will consider the individualized needs of the student.
When asked what the district has told parents to prepare for the year, Pappalardo said the resource specialists, who are our staff in each of the buildings, who are dedicated to providing support and accessibility and also our local education agent when it comes to facilitating IEP team meetings. They have been in touch over the summer with families especially when the survey collection was happening to inform them about the right models that are being offered throughout the district.
When asked about how she felt about the upcoming year, Papalardo said, "I have the pleasure of being able to talk to the parents directly, they call me, they call our team. I love to be on the front lines of problem solving, removing barriers for all our ESE students. I also work with the building leadership and the site based team to provide as much support as possible. My feeling is one of excitement to provide the support that I am charged with to ensure capacity for our students, all of our students and especially our students that are supported by ESE."