Yesterday, Governor Baker closed all public schools in Massachusetts through May 4th given the unprecedented health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. He also advised school districts to provide “the best possible opportunities for remote learning for all students” during this period of school closure.

Today, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued a set of recommendations for all students, and an updated FAQ regarding the provision of special education services during the school closure period.

Now that DESE has clarified that all students should be provided with remote learning opportunities during the closure period, the task of actually developing and providing those educational services – whether to general education or special education students – is going to be a challenge. This is a time for us all to be creative, flexible, and reasonable.

General Education – Highlights from DESE’s Remote Learning Recommendations Advisory:

  • While remote learning cannot replicate a traditional day of classroom learning, school districts are obligated to provide all students with “meaningful and productive learning opportunities though an appropriately structured educational program.”
  • School districts are expected to launch remote learning programs no later than early April.
  • Each school district is unique. It will be up to each district to develop its own remote learning plan. There is going to be variation between districts regarding the plans offered.
  • Remote learning should encompass “approximately half the length of the regular school day.” This time may be a mix of teacher-led activities, as well as periods of self-directed student learning.
  • School districts do not need to teach new material. DESE is encouraging districts to “focus on reinforcing skills already taught this year.” If teachers are going to introduce new material, all students must have access to learn that new material, including special education students.
  • Examples of remote learning include: Large group video and audio conference calls; 1:1 phone or video calls; email; work packets; projects; reading lists; online learning; art projects; exploring the natural world (when safe to do so) near a student’s home; and hands-on learning.
  • DESE is encouraging districts to provide students with a schedule that offers: (i) access to one or more educators multiple times per week; (ii) access to multiple hours per day of academic content directed by educators focusing on skills already taught during the school year; (iii) time each day for physical activity; and (iv) time for enrichment activities such as art and music.
  • DESE is advising districts to offer either “credit” or “no credit” on student work rather than traditional academic grades.

Special Education – Highlights from the Updated FAQ:

  • School districts should be providing remote learning special education services to students with IEPs. Relying on recent federal guidance, DESE confirmed that “school districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)” to students with special needs, while also protecting their health and safety. In addition, educational opportunities offered to the general education population must be made accessible to students with disabilities.
  • The provision of FAPE and special education services will not look the same as it does during a typical school day. Parents should expect that services are going to be modified and adapted in order to be delivered virtually. Parents should also expect that it may not be possible for their school district to provide all of the services listed on a student’s IEP.
  • Once school resumes, each student’s IEP Team should convene to discuss how the school closure impacted the individual student and will determine if any compensatory services will be needed.
  • School districts should ensure regular communication between parents and an IEP Team member during the school closure.
  • DESE is encouraging parents and districts to work together to meet IEP timelines for evaluations.
  • If a student’s IEP expires during the school closure period, it will remain in effect until a new IEP is developed.
  • IEP meetings should be held using telephone and video conferencing systems.

We continue to encourage parents to reach out to their child’s IEP Team contact to discuss how remote learning IEP services may be modified and delivered. This is a uniquely stressful time for all of us – let’s remain patient with ourselves and with others as we work together to meet the needs of our most vulnerable population.

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