Special Education

As we plan for the 2020-2021 school year and fall reopening in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, initial guidance from DESE asked schools and districts to prioritize and begin planning for in-person instruction for high needs populations while simultaneously preparing blueprints for both remote learning and a hybrid school model (a combination of in-person and remote learning) should local conditions change this school year. Given the continued uncertainty of the virus’ trajectory, it is important to keep in mind that plans are subject to change as conditions shift. Our planning work has focused on building in the flexibility required to seamlessly transition from one model to another as appropriate.

Special educators will collaborate with related service providers, paraprofessionals, general educators, and others who support children in Special Education, ensuring that recommendations for activities are appropriate and accessible for when we are both remote and when we transition to in-person.  Students will begin to receive their IEP services in the fall remotely with the goal of transitioning to in person learning. During the time of remote learning special education will continue to work toward providing some limited in person outdoor services when deemed appropriate. Special education instruction and related services will be provided in accordance with FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) through an instruction and services model of delivery (i.e., structured lessons, teletherapy, video based lessons).

Special education students with significant and complex needs will resume full-time in-person learning to the greatest extent possible as quickly as possible once all health and safety measures are in place. Students with complex needs must meet at least two of the following criteria to receive full-time in-person learning while meeting current health and safety requirements.

  • Students who are identified as high needs students who spend approximately 75% of their school day outside of general education classrooms and with special education service providers.
  • Students who cannot engage in remote learning due to their disability-related needs
  • Students who primarily use aided and augmentative communication
  • Students who are dually identified as English Learners (ELs)

Students in the following programs and supports would be prioritized for a return to the greatest extent possible to full-time programming: ECIP self-contained classrooms, ECIP Integrated classrooms, AIM Program, Life Skills Program, High Needs Inclusion Program at West Somerville Neighborhood School, SEEK Program, SKIP at the Kennedy School and SHIP at Somerville High School, Multi-graded classrooms, and Transition Program for 18-22 year old students at Somerville High School.

Our current focus is to return all students with special needs and students with significant and complex needs to in-person learning, as conditions permit, which will include flexible solutions for reducing the mixing of student groups to ensure students are receiving services in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This may include when feasible, providing related and/or pull-out services within the student’s classroom to the greatest extent possible. 

Special Education Reopening Models

Remote Learning: Somerville Public Schools (SPS) is prepared to provide services through the “Instruction and Services” mode of delivery which includes structured learning time, teletherapy, and video conferencing. 

The Remote Learning Models will include: 

  • a regular and consistent schedule of classes, interventions, services and therapies as required by the student’s IEP, offered synchronously or asynchronously;
  • structured learning time designated so that the student can access state standards; and 
  • frequent interactions with teachers and other staff members to ensure and facilitate participation.

Phased Hybrid (in-person/remote) Learning Model: In-person learning will include flexible solutions for reducing the mixing of student groups to ensure students are receiving services in the least restrictive environment. This may include when feasible, providing related and/or pull-out services within the student’s classroom to the greatest extent possible during the in-person component of the phased-in hybrid model. When appropriate, this may include for example, speech and language services and/or executive functioning services being provided in the classroom setting. We continue to work with Principals to identify other spaces in and out of school buildings that may be used when necessary to provide IEP related services outside of the classroom while maintaining appropriate social distancing.

SPS will maximize in-person learning for students with disabilities. Instruction and services will be provided in a hybrid learning model with a combination of in-person and remote learning.  We will be mindful when planning for the physical distancing requirements for students and adults in a classroom for the additional special educators and related service providers who will need to enter the classrooms throughout the day to provide services to students with disabilities. Somerville’s Special Education Department will work closely with schools to develop classroom assignments and service delivery schedules for students so that they receive services consistent with student IEPs in the least restrictive environment. Special educators and related services providers will schedule services in a manner that maintains physical distancing requirements and avoids overlapping with other staff in the classroom or physical setting.  

Parent Engagement

Parent engagement is an essential component of any successful education program. It will be imperative that SPS and individual schools establish meaningful two-way communication with families. This will include the expectation that classroom teachers, special education teachers, and related service providers communicate regularly with parents. The frequency and type of communication may vary depending on the child’s individual needs, language, technology barriers families may face while supporting their children with remote learning, and parent preferred mode of communication.

Ongoing engagement will be essential for educators, related service providers, and parents to develop a comprehensive plan for students to receive individualized instruction and related services. IEP Team members will need to work collaboratively with families or caregivers to obtain as much data and information as possible to anticipate a student’s present areas of need and levels of need during re-entry. This will also help school staff and families to be prepared if the need to move to remote learning occurs quickly. Engagement between teachers, parents, and service providers can occur through scheduled phone conversations when parents know they can reach teachers via phone or email and/or “office hours”, as well as, virtual scheduled meetings using platforms such as Zoom or Google Meets, and meetings outside if safe and possible.

Parent engagement is particularly important for special education teams to determine if and how services will be provided differently as a result of the changes to the overall learning environment associated with any of the three models of instruction (full in-person, remote, hybrid).  IEP case managers/liaison will be contacting parents as soon as they return for the 2020/2021 school year to discuss how a student's IEP services may be delivered if different than described in a student's IEP, giving particular consideration to the potential changes to how and where special education services will be provided. Using input from the discussion, case managers/liaisons will provide parents with written notification containing specific information about how IEP services will be provided at the start of the school year in the form of a Covid-19 Learning Model Family Communication Plan.

Considerations for Students with High-Risk Medical Conditions

Parents/guardians of students with high-risk medical conditions are encouraged to consult their child’s healthcare provider to discuss the appropriateness of the student attending in-person instruction.  School health professionals will work with primary health care providers to assure all appropriate accommodations are in place to support students during in-person instruction.  Ultimately, this is a difficult choice for parents as to whether to have their child return to the in person component of hybrid learning. If a parent chooses to continue all remote learning beyond the remote learning phase, we will work with families to continue to provide remote learning.

Student Transportation

The issue of transportation for students remains an area of concern. The need to maintain necessary social distancing guidelines on vehicles poses a significant challenge with no easy answers. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA DESE) on July 22, 2020 released guidance related to transportation (see report here).  

The Special Education Department has been reaching out to families who receive transportation to find out if parents will choose to access transportation, as provided according to their student’s IEP, or if they will choose to transport their student themselves and access parent reimbursement during the time of Covid-19. We are working with our transportation company regarding rerouting options, cleaning and sanitizing schedules, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements for drivers and riders, and van capacities.

It may not be possible for our transportation companies to accommodate this level of coordination while maintaining high standards of health and safety for all. Therefore we will continue to ask parents to help as much as possible with transporting their students to and from school wherever possible once the in person phase of the hybrid model begins.

More in depth information such as evaluation and team meetings, transition for early childhood, transition planning for postsecondary, and specialized PPE equipment can be found in the Special Education Fall 2020 Reopening and Learning Plan.