Prioritizing Our Students with Special Needs
Services for our students with special needs were prioritized by almost every group of stakeholders who contributed to the design of our phased plan to reopen schools.
In OUSD, the Special Education Department is charged with educating students who have learning disabilities or exceptional cognitive or physical needs and who are made eligible for services through an Individual Education Program (IEP). Special Education provides services and support in district-run, alternative and select charter schools to all identified students from infancy through age 22. Services include:
- specialized academic instruction;
- speech-language therapy;
- occupational and physical therapy;
- assistive technology;
- adaptive physical education;
- mental health services;
- behavior intervention and assessment;
- career-transition services; and
- low-incidence services for students with visual, hearing and orthopedic impairments.
We plan to bring our students with special needs back on campuses in phases. Our students who have experienced profound regression in their academic, social, or behavioral skills have returned to In-person instruction first. Our students served in general education settings for the majority of their school day will return to In-person learning along with the general education population. For more details about our plans in supporting our students during our distance and blended phases, visit the Special Education resources and support page on OUSD.org.
How are students with special needs supported in Distance Learning?
Special Education Learning Loss Pods
While distance learning has been challenging for all of our staff, students, and families, we anticipated and are seeing significant skill regression in many of our students with special needs. In-person socialization and support is critical to helping students recover their pre-COVID skill levels.
In September, we began planning for how we could support our students who have experienced profound academic, behavioral, or social skill regression. We developed a regional “pod” model, where a small group of 12-16 students would be brought together to receive supplemental services after the end of their distance learning school day.
Each pod is composed of students who were recommended for In-person support by their Special Education Case Manager (teacher). Students were selected based on baseline data indicating significant skill regression across IEP goal domains. Our pods have a maximum of six students in the PK-2 Grades and eight students in Grades 3-Young Adult. Our pods opened for staff on November 9, and for students on November 16. The eight week pilot ran through January 29, 2021.
The pods will be staffed to ensure individual and small group attention for each student with a combination of Non Public Agency contractors & AFSCME Paraeducators:
- Paraeducators will be providing the instructional activity leadership for the pods.
- Behavioral Technicians will be providing functional and behavioral goal supports for the pod.
- Speech Language Pathology Assistants will be providing milieu communication and social skills support within a pod for a four-week cycle before moving to another pod.
- Licensed Vocational Nurses will be providing training to paraeducators and medical support for students, and are supporting COVID testing for staff.
We are deeply grateful to our labor partners in AFSCME and UAOS, our families, the Community Advisory Council, and our Special Education Coordinators who have been very student- and solutions- oriented as we plan together how best to serve students while ensuring staff and student safety.