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See what was said in our exclusive special education Zoom conversation with education leaders, health experts

HOUSTON – Are you a parent, family member or loved one worried about your student with special needs and how this school year will impact them?

On Thursday evening, our education team members, Keith Garvin and Christine Noël moderated a discussion with health experts and education leaders.

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Panelists

  • Dr. Deena Hill with Fort Bend ISD
  • Pam McClean with Deer Park ISD
  • Nicole Roberts with Alief ISD
  • Dr. Victoria Regan, Pediatrician with Memorial Hermann
  • Dr. Shana D. Lewis, Licensed Counselor

Here’s a log of some of what was discussed:

Question: Where should parents begin about assessments?

Regan: Have a conversation with your pediatrician about your concerns so they can help guide you. We’re here to help with the process.

Question: What will happen if classes go virtual?

McClean: We have outlined a plan for our special education teachers. There are a few ways to do it like break out sessions or office hours.

Question: How is Fort Bend ISD meeting the needs of special ed students online?

Hill: Most services for special needs students can be implemented online. If a parent feels the online lessons aren’t working for your child, contact your child’s teacher to discuss how to move forward for best success?

Question: How will IEPs look during virtual education?

Roberts: IEPs will remain the same in both virtual and in-person environments. Students should continue to receive the same minutes. If a student is in a live lesson, we’re looking at what we can do to help them. That might look like pre-teaching content so the child can participate actively in class.

Question: How can parents support the emotional needs of their children right now?

Lewis: Listen to your child. A lot of times, children’s thoughts and voices get muted because parents have their own thing going on. Talk to your child. Don’t accept ‘Okay’ and ‘good.’ Our kiddos are anxious and frustrated. There’s a lot of emotional weight and baggage. Be in tune to it. Ask them questions. Engage with them.

Hill: I would suggest if your child is struggling, contact the schools and teachers. We are ramping up our social-emotional learning because we know children are struggling.

Question: How do you work on social skills with a child who is on the spectrum from home?

Regan: It’s a little more challenging. Each child on the spectrum has different needs. It’s definitely individualized. Communicate with teachers so you can use the same techniques at home. Really engage with teachers. It takes a village with all of us working together.

Roberts: There are resources available so I encourage you to reach out to your child’s teacher so you can work on things at home.

Question: I know that most districts want our kids back in school. What can we as parents do to advocate for in-person learning?

Roberts: Alief ISD is 100% virtual right now. I talked to a father about how we could support them. Reach our to your child’s teacher, or directors or coordinators. We do hear you. We hear your voices. We need to be one team together.

Question: What are you doing to ensure parents with disabilities are involved in making decisions?

McClean: A lot of teachers are reaching out to parents for an early phase-in. We are checking on needs and if they’re ready to come back physically to school. The decision is really going to be up to the parent to make that. As a district, we know our students thrive with face-to-face learning.

Hill: We have a soft start so we have about 800 students coming in this Monday. A lot of what it’s about is communication. If you’re frustrated because you feel you’re not part of the process. Sometimes we don’t understand what’s going on. Reach out.

Question: What additional procedures can districts provide for students who have physical needs like help using the restroom or bodily secretions like saliva?

Answer: Teachers and staff are being provided with PPE and gloves. Staff also have training videos so they can follow proper protocols for toileting, diapering and other personal services.

Question: Many special ed kiddos spend years working on skills that come easy to other kids. What are you doing to support kids who are regressing?

Hill: We have really ramping up online instruction. That’s one of the reasons we’re offering face-to-face instruction because there are students who just don’t benefit from online learning. When they come back, we will assess their learning so we can make appropriate steps.

Roberts: We too in Alief have ramped up practices for teachers and students. Most left on Spring Break and never came back. We are continuing to build skills for teachers and students. We are going to continue to reach out to families. Reach out to the principal and teachers.

McClean: We did offer face-to-face for extended school year services. Hopefully, that will remedy some of the regression. We have ramped up services. It’s much different in the Fall than it was in the Spring. We just want to make sure we’re doing the best we can for our students.

Question: How important is parents to work on themselves right now?

Lewis: Mental health is worse than it was before COVID. It is absolutely imperative that parents and teachers take care of themselves so they can take care of the children. All adults, do your work first. Take care of you. Take time out. Color, breathe, meditate. It’s an absolute must. We have to do it for ourselves first.

Question: How important is social interaction?

Regan: Remote learning can help with academic component. Social interaction is key. It’s really important for students to interact with their peers. it’s vital to their development but we have to make sure it’s

Lewis: I encourage my kids to find creative ways to connect with friends like Zoom calls, paint parties through Zoom. Their emotional well-being is major. Find creative ways to keep your kids connected with their friends.

Question: With children, especially young and special needs kids, what is the district doing to keep masks on in school?

Hill: For our students, whether they’re four, five years old or have cognitive challenges, we’re using social stories to teach kids about masks. At the end of the day, if a child can’t keep their mask on because of their disabilities, we’re not going to ostracize them because of it.

McClean: We did summer testing. Our district nurses shared a video. Social stories are going to be key. Building up tolerance. Have facemask break time. Those are strategies to help students. Due to sensory issues, some students might not be able to tolerate a mask so we will be sensitive to that.

Question: How can I help my child who is withdrawn and quiet?

Lewis: Is that normal behavior? If that’s their personality, maybe there’s less concern. But we also don’t want them to lose touch. Find creative ways to help your child stay connected. There are children who are withdrawn because they’re sad, depressed or anxious. If this interferes with their academics or aren’t communicating at all, seek resources or help.

McClean: In Deer Park, reach out to the school counselors to help your child.

Roberts: Teachers meeting with students before class to prepare them might help.

Question: My son has ADHD and is having trouble in the 1-hour classes. What are suggestions if he’s overwhelmed or mentally checking out?

Hill: We do have accommodations so kids can take breaks. We can let them go to a break room. They can also walk away from the computer. It’s important to do things that will help them get refocused. Teachers are working hard to design instruction so we don’t have an hour straight of someone talking. There will be a work session and activities.

Roberts: Other strategies might be a teacher using a visual reminder like a thumbs up or high-five. Fidget toys might also help students to help them stay focused.

Regan: If your child takes ADHD medication and stopped taking it while at home, it might be worth talking to your pediatrician to restart them.

Lewis: Teach them meditation or take them outside for a walk.

Question: What platforms are you using to promote teletherapy?

Hill: In Fort Bend ISD, we’re using Microsoft Teams. We can do breakout sessions.

McClean: In Deer Park, we’re using teams as well. For some of our therapists, we’re using Zoom education.

Roberts: In Alief, we’re using Zoom education as well for speech therapy, telehealth and other things.

Question: What kind of assistance can we offer students and parents transitioning from elementary to middle school?

Hill: It can be really hard. Some of the best ways to prepare, your special ed teacher can work with the other teachers to help. Do some preparation with your child to help them understand how things will look different with different teachers. That may look different but it’s important you help prepare for those transitions.

McClean: I agree. We’re also phasing in gradually so kids can get acclimated. Really, it is communicating the needs of your child to your special ed teachers so they can help general ed teachers learn.

Roberts: I understand your concerns. Communication, preparation, visual schedules all help when you’re looking at a transition year.

Question: What are effective practices for Zoom education for special needs kids?

McClean: Small segments. Also following a protocol from your teacher. Make sure the area where you’re working with the child is quiet and calm. those things can help.

Roberts: We’re utilizing breakout rooms where special ed teachers can meet individually. Breakout rooms are a great way within zoom for that specialized education. Many of us are using learning management systems. It’s being prepared for class.

McClean: Frontloading is very beneficial to our students with special needs.

Question: How can we ensure safety for students and staff when students who can be physically aggressive, spit or bite when they don’t wear PPE?

Hill: We really work on de-escalation techniques. We train staff on how to make sure they continue to wear PPE during this time. If we know we have students who spit or have aggressive behaviors, we will have extra PPE and cleaning products. We will also move kids around so there’s enough room.

McClean: We’re working with staff so they know what triggers are and what is calming for each individual student.


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