If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
Special Education Directors have spoken on the importance of communication, clear objectives and accessibility for all – especially in a world of distance learning.
The Mission CISD, La Joya ISD and Sharyland ISD are all working to ensure the needs of students enrolled in their Special Education program, along with their parents, are met.
Francisca Cruz, the Executive Director for Special Education & Section 504/RTI/Dyslexia, spoke about how the Mission Consolidated Independent School District is keeping everything accessible with little to no interruption. She said they are even better prepared for the upcoming school year, which will start remotely on Tues. Sept. 8, 2020.
“We’re very blessed with a team that is able to adapt quickly and respond,” Cruz said. “There are so many options. There has been a great response from various entities to meet the demand for different options of delivery for some of the services that we offer.”
Cruz said there are several virtual resources available to provide modified instruction and services for students in the Special Education Program. They have also provided teachers with training on navigating technology and their new virtual classrooms.
“It’s about setting up the schedules – with Special Education, that is critical for students because, depending on the needs of each student, their schedules might have to differ a little bit, and we need to accommodate that,” Cruz said. “We cannot leave our parents out as we embark on the new school year.”
Cruz noted they offered a virtual parent conference to dispense valuable information to help them navigate distance learning as well.
“We will continue to provide various training for our parents on the different applications and other areas that are relevant to the new way of learning,” Cruz said. “We just want to make sure that we’re supporting our parents and our students at all times.”
For students who require more guided support and modifiers, teachers at MCISD are adapting the material and delivery for the students based on parent feedback and student needs.
“We’re always taking into account the adjustments that students may need for the virtual learning experience,” Cruz said. “The bottom line when it comes to Special Education, the IEP [Individualized Education Program] for our students, or the plan, it stands regardless of the situation we’re in. We need to continue that IEP.”
Cruz stressed that IEPs will not change – if a student needs an accommodation or a modification, they will continue to receive it. It is not the what that will change – it is the how.
“Special Education resources and inclusion features will continue with individualized support schedules,” Cruz said. “Just like they have and would in the campus setting.”
Teachers and Special Education Administration will remain available to parents, whether it be over the phone, email or video conference.
“They can continue to make contact as they normally would, pick up the phone and call the campus,” Cruz said. “Our phone lines are working, and for those working from home have the calls directly transferred. We want to make the communication always there.”
MCISD has also implemented a Homework Hotline that will be available to parents from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. during the school week – it is for homework, but if parents need someone to call them back or require additional support in any area, they can leave a message.
Cruz said, in the event that schools do reopen with social distancing guidelines, they will ensure practices are kept as safely as possible.
“We will adhere at all times to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines, we are committed to follow those guidelines to ensure the safety of everyone,” Cruz said.
Cruz added that more than anything, even with distance learning, teachers are looking forward to seeing and interacting with their students. Parents will maintain the option to keep students learning from home if they choose.
La Joya ISD
Andrea Garza, the Director of Special Education at the La Joya Independent School District, said they were continuing the practice of individualized education and care with their students.
“For evaluations, we were not able to complete them until we were able to resume [in-person],” Garza said. “It’s important – we want families to know what’s going on.”
Speech assistants were not approved by the Texas Education Agency to provide speech therapy until April. When they reached out to parents, some said they were not comfortable, so they provided all resources via online options. Others were not ready to continue even online.
“And I can understand that – everybody was hoping that we were going to be able to come back and provide for the kids,” Garza said.
La Joya ISD offered a five-week summer school program, and the Special Education department informed parents on remote instruction and what it would look like. Special Education teachers would co-teach with general teachers, and students who needed more support were pulled into their own virtual spaces and given all the necessary services.
Because of the success of their summer model, LJISD is able to take it and continue for the new school year, which is set to start remotely on Sept. 8, 2020.
“In June we did come up with a protocol for testing,” Garza said. “But then COVID arrived here in the Valley. You’d hear cases here and there, we were doing so well, and all of a sudden it exploded.”
In order to ensure safety for students and the community, the LJISD Special Education program had to continue to adapt.
“We’re living through a very difficult time,” Garza said. “The Safety Committee is looking at how we’re doing, so when things are ready to go we are ready to test.”
Personal Protective Equipment is in place and available for staff and students when testing eventually opens again. In the meantime, they are still able to offer some forms of evaluations for students remotely.
“We are able to do speech therapy evaluations that are virtual,” Garza said. “We were able to purchase the components for that online.”
Some younger children are able to be evaluated through parent questionnaires, but specialized tests for learning disabilities are not able to be conducted because it requires face-to-face observation.
Garza spoke about Bitmoji classrooms, which the district uses along with Google Classroom to create virtual learning environments that students can easily interact with. When “entering” a teacher’s room, one can see various links to videos on sensory images, book narration, sing-along songs and dances.
Teachers have also prepared personalized binders for each special education student, set up with their plan and needs so they can continue to make strides forward and remain successful in the process.
For La Joya ISD, keeping Special Education parents and students informed will continue to be a priority, while ensuring the safety of everyone in the community. When schools eventually reopen, parents will have the choice to continue distance learning or send their children in for face-to-face instruction.
“The population of kids that we service, they have a lot of medical deficiencies and ailments,” Garza said. “Our kids are more at risk of getting sick. We are going to follow school district and CDC guidelines. Our staff will be wearing the appropriate things they are supposed to wear. Some of our kids will be able to wear face masks, some will not, and that’s okay. We’re going to do the best we can. Safety is always first, that’s why we’re in this situation of delaying in-person instruction.”
Dr. Leila Flores-Torres, the Special Education Director for the Sharyland Independent School District, said SISD was doing everything in their power to ensure every child’s needs are met.
“We have to consider student needs, resources available and collaboration with parents,” Flores-Torres said. “We had to plan how we were going to fulfill the needs of the majority while still addressing the needs of students.”
After the initial closure, she noted they have had time over the summer to plan and prepare for remote instruction, and they have done better with meeting everyone’s needs for the current school year, which has already begun for SISD.
“Our Special Education teachers have their own Google Classrooms in which they meet with their students to provide the instruction and support they need, whether it’s through a life-skills setting or an inclusion setting, they are more equipped now to provide that instruction, even one-to-one instruction, virtually,” Flores-Torres said.
Flores-Torres said SISD provides devices for all students who need them for the 2020-2021 school year to ensure distance learning can be executed safely, and have provided more WiFi hotspots.
For the students who need more guided support, Flores-Torres said Special Education teachers are addressing individual needs by conducting weekly home visits to the students whose parents agree to it. Following CDC guidelines and local health politics, they are meeting with students outside their homes to continue addressing IEP needs if required.
Flores-Torres said they are also utilizing TeachTown platforms and similar services to supplement instruction even further.
“We’re in the planning stage of addressing the students’ social-emotional needs and parents’ support needs as we navigate through remote instruction,” Flores-Torres said. “Being home now for practically five or six months now, in many cases their needs have changed. We’ve heard reports of students who are becoming more anxious, and the lack of structure is taking a toll on their behavior sometimes.”
Flores-Torres said they have a team of Licensed Specialists and school psychologists who are looking into how they can address those social-emotional needs of students during remote instruction and moving forward. They are also looking at how to address the parents’ needs, and are planning support groups for parents of special needs children in the future.
“We’ve had a lot of support from our superintendent and our administrative team,” Flores-Torres said. “They’ve focused their support on special populations including Special Education, 504 students, migrant students, bilingual students – how we are going to address them in this time of remote instruction.”
The SISD Special Education department is also making plans toward how they will phase-in face-to-face instruction. There are different options depending on the complexity of the needs of their students.
“The students who have more complex needs may have priority in phasing back into the campus setting, just because their needs are such that we need to address them in a face-to-face setting,” Flores-Torres said. “We understand that remote instruction is not for everyone, so as soon as we have local guidance, we will phase them back in considering if parents agree to it.”
Parents at SISD will still have the choice to keep their children at home even if in-person instruction becomes an option. She noted student and community safety is a top priority for SISD.