Over the past weeks and months, one of our primary focuses has been making sure that children with disabilities have the tools and resources they need to be successful during the 2020-2021 school year, in spite of the pandemic. We know that families statewide are facing major barriers and challenges in accessing special education services and individualized supports for their children at this time, especially in distance learning.
We have been hearing a broad range of concerns. We have been advocating for the development of an interagency work group with the Departments of Education (MDE), Health (MDH), and Human Services (DHS). This work group would help identify innovative solutions to these concerns.
The Departments were receptive to this feedback. They have held 2 work group meetings so far. In the meetings, we have offered feedback to improve guidance that has been issued thus far, pushed for more helpful, specific guidance on the most urgent issues facing students and families, and shared these specific requests/recommendations:
Provide guidance to districts to meet the needs of students with disabilities who will not receive an educational benefit from distance learning, possibly through:
- In-person instruction or services at outdoor locations;
- In-person instruction for prioritized students with disabilities at school locations;
- In-person instruction for prioritized students with disabilities at district-sponsored child care for children of tier-1 workers; and
- In-person instruction by school staff at childrens’ homes (potentially with dedicated limited pool of children per teacher).
Enhance PCA support by:
- Seeking federal approval to permit parent pay for PCA;
- Seeking federal approval to allow more flexibility for education-adjacent activities PCAs can provide support with; and
- Providing clear guidance to PCA providers and families about how PCAs can be utilized when distance learning is occurring at home.
Leverage HCBS support by:
- Providing guidance to counties about the use of waivers during the time of COVID about how case managers can get needs met with the services they already have available;
- Providing guidance to counties to be more proactive in supporting individuals and families with disabilities and allow them to spend the funds for which they have already been found eligible;
- Creating flexibility in waiver programs to support children at home through increased flexibility with CDCS, making sure that consumers are aware of the CDCS option, and directing DHS to mobilize the Family Support Grant (FSG) system as an interim support solution while families are in the process of applying for other supports; and
- Considering the use of federal funds to provide additional funding for the FSG program.
Pursue options for schools to pay parents or family members to provide needed supports for children to engage in educational services during the day (acting as a paraprofessional).
Support licensed child care providers to serve school-aged children with disabilities and provide needed supports for children to engage in educational services during the day.
Provide guidance to districts prioritizing in-person options with transportation for children who cannot work from home/a home (no adults, no home, inadequate space, inadequate wifi), and:
- use statewide resources to expand broadband;
- connect districts with resources around technology; and
- facilitate districts sharing/exchanging resources.
Set and communicate standards to districts for students with IEPs to ensure that they have appropriate technology for each student, adequate bandwidth, technical know-how at home to troubleshoot, and quiet space to work.
Provide guidance to districts about developing a clear process for students and families to report that they don't have adequate supports, track/monitor districts’ response(s), and continue to request formal solutions/resolutions over the course of the school year.
We need your help
We will continue advocating for these changes and flexibilities, but we urgently need your help. If you are the parent or family member of a child/youth/young adult with disabilities, please take a few moments to complete this survey about your experience with school thus far: https://bit.ly/2FrURzi
We hope to elevate your stories in a way that can inform policies related to students with disabilities. We hope to get the changes that are so urgently needed in order to make this school year a success. It is critical that we continue advocating for a viable pathway to ensure that children are receiving the supports they not only deserve, but are their right, during the 2020-2021 school year.
With questions or for more information, you can contact me at email@example.com.