Iowa School Closures and Special Education: Now What?

Students and families across the state were impacted by the decision to close schools for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This abrupt shift left families wondering how they would make sure that their students were “ready to learn” in the fall, a standard set forth by Governor Kim Reynolds, when she made the announcement on April 17, 2020. Families of children with IEPs, receiving special education services through the schools, were perhaps hit the hardest by this announcement, especially considering the mixed messages coming out of the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.

The Department of Education ended up issuing a memo clarifying schools’ obligations to provide a FAPE to students with special education needs. The memo provided suggestions as to how schools might provide typical special education accommodations and services online, including “extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.”

In this memo, the USDOE states definitively that even in this time of COVID-19, school “districts must provide a FAPE consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students.” USDOE further refers the reader to an earlier USDOE publication warning districts against discrimination in response to COVID-19: “Educational institutions should take special care to ensure that all students are able to study and learn in an environment that is healthy, safe, and free from bias or discrimination.” United States Department of Education, “OCR Coronavirus Statement,” March 4, 2020.

The Iowa Department of Education has reiterated these same standards for Iowa schools. If Iowa school districts are offering continuing learning opportunities to students, then they are required to make accommodations for access for those students with disabilities. However, when it comes to receiving access to special education services, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy, the IEP teams are required to meet (typically via teleconference apps or sites) to determine if adaptations can be made and if services need to continue during this time.  Children with special education services may be eligible for “make-up” services or compensatory sessions once schools re-open if there has been regression, but this determination shall be made by the IEP team. Iowa Department of Education “FAQs for Iowa Families and Parents of Students with Disabilities receiving Special Education, or Parents of Children receiving Early Intervention,” March 26, 2020.

What Do I Do Now?

As a parent or caregiver, YOU ARE A MEMBER OF THE IEP TEAM. So often, parents feel like they play a lesser role in IEP meetings, but now, more than ever, your input will be invaluable.

  • Make a Request. Write a letter to the Director of Special Education, School Principal, or Superintendent and request a virtual meeting with the IEP team to determine if services can be re-established using technology or proper social distancing techniques so as to maintain services for your child.
  • Keep Records. Make a list of any supplementary services you acquire for your child during this time or over the summer. This includes private tutors, ABA therapies, speech therapy or other related services that you obtain for the benefit of your child. Note how often and how long these classes or sessions last, so you can identify how many hours of supplemental instruction or intervention was obtained over the break. Also, keep track of expenses incurred to access these services, as you may be able to submit them for reimbursement.
  • Note Any Changes in Your Child. Be observant of any changes in your child’s behavior or skills. Keep a journal for evidence of regression in skills or new behaviors you notice during this time. This is good place to note any interventions or services you used to deal with any changes or regression, such as emergency mental health services, medication changes or one-on-one adult supports during the day.
  • Keep All Scheduled Meetings or Due Process Hearings. Request these meetings or hearings be conducted via teleconference or video-conferencing applications. While the federal government has given schools relaxed timelines for completions of evaluations or such hearings and meetings, it is important to keep your scheduled meetings, as it prevents starting the new school year behind a back-log of IEP meetings, 504 Evaluations, etc.  Stay up-to-date and current with all meetings and ensure that your child experiences a continuity that these health care emergencies can not disrupt.

If you have questions about this post, or if you’d like help with a special education matter, please send me an email at wholeheartedwdm@gmail.com. 

Fun Facts Math Keypad

Any chance I get to jazz up the same old math facts, I take it! Writing out math facts on windows or mirrors with glass pens? Check! Beads and LEGOS? Absolutely! UNO cards? Have we met???  This easy-to-make keypad can turn any doorway, wall or floor space into a functional learning place!

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Here’s why this is such a great way to practice math facts: 

  1.  It’s cost-effective. Post-it notes work great for this project, but you can use any paper.  The point is to spread them out on a large scale.  Simply write out each individual number 0-9, just like a telephone.  Keep it in 3 x 3 columns, as opposed to putting them in a straight line.  A fun twist on this project is to trace your child’s hand and have them cut out the hands for each number (or you can do it, too). That way, they are giving a high-5 each time! Honestly, any fun shape would work!
  2. It can be done anywhere. This activity can be laid out on the floor, on a door, in a box or with a fox! HA!  Pardon my Dr. Seuss inner voice creeping out there! But you could also put this on a wall, a bathroom mirror….shall I go on? One favorite use for this activity is to write the keypad out on the driveway or sidewalk.  You could even put this on a rear-seat window in the car for car rides! Do you get the impression that I am relentless?  Lol!

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3. This activity gets kids crossing their midline.  Midline crossing helps increase  communication between both hemispheres of the brain, in addition to improving bilateral coordination in the body.

4. The mind-body connection increases your child’s ability to remember the information being learned! When we incorporate bodily movement into learning, we increase the number or neural pathways being created around that information.  When that happens, children are more likely to remember whatever we are trying to teach them, be that math facts, grammar rules, or state capitals!

Enjoy this short (poorly filmed) video demo that shows you how it works!

 

No matter how you use this concept, it is sure to be more fun and more effective than plain old rote memorization! I’d love to hear about your experience using this idea!

Spelling Squiggles!

This week, I have been sharing all sorts of literacy sites and resources under the “Home-based Learning” tab.  I wanted to take a minute and share one of my favorite spelling practice activities with you: the spelling squiggle!

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Spelling Squiggles are a cute idea for practicing repetition while incorporating mid-line crossing, heightened hand-eye coordination, and creativity.  This is WAY better than just copying words in a list! In short, using spelling squiggles to practice spelling words uses so much more of your brain than traditional spelling lists – and they look so cool when they are done!

Here’s how is works: Have your child practice drawing figure-eight shapes without a pencil, pen, crayon or marker in their hand.  They can even bend over and use their arm like an elephant trunk. Let them loosen their arms, their shoulders and their hands. Next, give them a piece of paper – for younger kids, I like bigger paper! Older kids can do just fine with 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of copy paper or notebook paper. My favorite paper for this activity is the large 3M Post-it wall pads!

3M 566, Post-it Self-Stick Wall Pad, MMM566, MMM 566 - Office ...

Next, using a black marker, crayon, or pen have your child make a totally random squiggle shape  on the paper.  There is no “wrong” shape, but the bigger and more squiggly, the more room you will have for more words.

Lastly, give your child markers, colored pencils, crayons (whatever sparks their creativity), and a list of their spelling words.  Have them fill each segment in the squiggle with one spelling word, repeated over and over to fill that space.  Some spaces may only be able to hold a few words, while others can hold a dozen! It’s up to you and your child’s creativity to decide how to fill all of the spaces! (You will notice that my demo picture has some words repeated.)

I always leave these up on the wall or the refrigerator so my kids can see the words throughout the week!

You can also use this same idea to practice math facts, filling each space with a new math fact.

Take this idea outside and use sidewalk chalk to make a squiggle in the driveway!

There are tons of ways to use this idea to practice spelling words, math facts, and much more! Add your own spin on this fun, and effective technique!

 

 

 

Learning Fun With UNO Cards

By now, you probably know how much I like using games for learning! Especially now, when kids are home with parents or caregivers, time spent playing a simple game of UNO together can be lots of fun, but why not take that same deck of UNO cards and use it to help those same kiddos work on sorting skills, math facts, and memory? Even those kids, for whom a game of UNO is too long, requires too much sitting still, or too much patience, can enjoy these activities.

Here are three different ways to use those UNO cards:

Color Sort or Number Sort

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Have kiddos sort by colors or numbers. Give them a limited stack of cards or the whole deck and have them order them numerically or by color.  (Make sure they can name the colors, as well.) Some kids will prefer a neat and tidy deck of cards to use for sorting, turning each card, one at a time.  Other kids might like to spread them all out on the floor and search for the cards, placing them in order in their unique way. Either way is fine!

Practicing Math Facts

Use Post-It notes (or 3×5 note cards or torn up pieces of paper) to show the math symbols (+, -, =)  and have kids practice their math facts.  You can sit with them as they do this, or you can have them write each fact down on a piece of paper (or even snap a pic and text it to you).  You could also give them a series of problems to work on and they can lay them out on the table or floor as they work them out.  Don’t limit yourself to two digit problems either! Take advantage of the floor space and really spread out!   Kids can use multiple cards to show the final answer (for example, using a 1 card, a 3 card and a 2 cards to show the answer as 132.)

Play Memory

When my sons were younger, I made all kinds of Memory games for them! UNO cards are one of the simplest ways to use something you already have in a fun, new way.  You will have to organize pairs of matching cards beforehand, but if you’ve already had them sort the cards, you’re half-way there! HA! Take turns turning over two cards at a time. If they match, that player gets to keep that matched pair. If they do not match, the player turns the cards back over and the next player tries to remember where the matching pairs are located.  While this game can be played alone, it is more fun played with someone else! Try it! It’s harder than you may remember!

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I hope you find these options to be simple and effective! While it may be tempting to have your kids (no matter the age) sit at the table to do these things, I encourage you to let them sit or lay on the ground to play these games. By doing so, their bodies may be more relaxed and they may be able to focus easier because they are more comfortable.  Also, the gentle joint compression we experience when we are on our knees and hands (like when we are putting together a floor-sized puzzle) can alleviate stress throughout the body and ease anxiety or hyperactivity.

Don’t own a deck of UNO cards yet?  Find them on Amazon HERE.  Target currently has UNO for $5.99, so you might want to check them out first. Click HERE for Target’s listing.