Special Education in 2020

advocacy

2020.

Aka, the year the rule book flew out the window.

I edited my book entitled Special Education Savvy during the crazy quarantine summer of 2020. 

The summer of Covid-19. 

The summer after special education turned into the Wild Wild West.  

I kept thinking to myself… Wow, so many of the problems I’m trying to solve here seem trivial all of a sudden. So much of the wisdom that I spent nearly two years crafting into words have become grossly insufficient in an instant. In the context of this strange new world we find ourselves in, uncertainty reigns supreme. 

Brand new challenges have been thrown at the parents of children with disabilities. At the same time, physical safety has replaced student achievement as the number one priority for educators and administrators. And all of us are in the same boat trying to tame a new beast named virtual learning. Basically, the special education landscape changed completely and overnight. 

Questions about FAPE and IEP changes and compensatory education have been flooding my inbox. Time and time again I heard myself saying things like, “I just don’t know.”  “There is nothing in IDEA about virtual learning.”  “There is no case law that addresses the rights of students during a global pandemic.” 

At the time of writing, guidance from the federal and state departments of education has been spotty and nebulous. The Commissioner of Education stated early on that she would not issue any waivers to IDEA, and that IEPs were expected to be implemented to the greatest extent possible. Okay great… But how? I saw some school districts scramble into action, while others suffered fear and paralysis and tried to get parents to sign their child’s rights away. Some got scrappy, innovative, and really showed up, while others offered little to no instruction for the final three months of the 2019-2020 school year. I saw some students thrive in their new virtual “placements” while others struggled immensely. Across the state and across the country, other advocates reported the same disparities. It was a mess.

The children with the highest levels of need were impacted the most. The fact of the matter is that many, many children just can not access their education through a computer screen. No matter how hard the teachers and parents try. 6 hour school days were replaced by a 15-minute Zoom session because some students simply cannot sit and attend for longer than that. Certified special education teachers and 1:1 classroom aides were replaced by untrained, stressed parents trying to figure out how they were going to be on a conference call with their boss while providing frequent verbal prompts and intermittent edible reinforcers to their 5th grader with autism during a virtual lesson. And monitor their other two children in the other room? Unless your name is Harriet Houdini, these are impossible expectations. 

It didn’t take long for fears of academic regression to become a reality. Self-injury (SIBs) escalated for the many children with IEPs who thrive on consistency and structure. Increased anxiety was pretty much universal, but no one experienced it more acutely than these children whose worlds were just turned completely upside down. Some of what I witnessed was heartbreaking.  

Moms and Dads:  Do you know what this has taught me and continues to teach me as I’m typing this and we’re still in the thick of it seven months later? Developing your Special Education Savvy has NEVER been more important. The time to get serious about learning this stuff is NOW. The time to lean on and nurture the relationship you’ve built with your school district is NOW. The time to protect your child’s educational rights most fiercely is NOW. 

The consequences of inaction are far too great. 

Pleading ignorance is not an option.

Your child needs you.

You can do this.

The IEP Parent's Guide
to the BEST School Year EVER!

A month-by-month checklist of Best Practices 

This is the guide you need
to step up your advocacy game. 

Simple, monthly action steps to keep busy parents on track all year long.
*Relevant for all grade levels and disability categories.*