CA Schools Re-opening Guidance Webinar Leaves many questions unanswered!
"#StrongerTogether is their tagline, yes we are stronger together but our children and their needs are completely sidelined, we are not together in this" - says a desperate parent of a special education student in the Santa Clara county.
Their child has been struggling and regressing during the Distance Learning mandate put in place by the Governor and the California Dept. of Education. This parent along with a group of other parents has been monitoring, writing, requesting, attending meetings, webinars to better support special education students who are almost always forgotten during the generic planning and while the Governor, Gavin Newsome and State Superintendent, Tony Thurmond keep coming on in press conferences and saying Students with disabilities will be supported, six months into the pandemic, these parents are yet to see any relief or support being offered.
Whether it is a kindergartener running away from the computer and not attending a class due to his elopement behaviors or whether it is a student who sits in front of the computer all day and does not engage even once since there is no support, or whether it is a student with sensory needs and behavioral concerns that indulges in self injury and aggression due to the unrealistic expectations of having to sit in front of a computer for hours on end, "NONE" of these students are being supported at this time effectively and each of them has lost more than half a year of learning.
This morning, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond conducted a webinar to address the California Department of Health Guidance for School administrators and School districts to understand how to bring back students with disabilities in small cohorts and address questions or concerns regarding the same. Media and Press were also invited to this webinar which was basically a regurgitation of the same topics of digital divide, PPE, and schools being unable to reopen if their counties were in the purple tier. There were questions about bringing back small cohorts of "special needs students" for in person instruction but no clear answers were given. There was just a fleeting mention of the fact that "waivers for elementary education" were still available for districts to apply for, and that special education cohorts could be provided in person instruction, however, there were NO SPECIFICS provided.
When there were questions regarding "specific guidelines and steps" required to be fulfilled by the Districts to start offering this support to SpEd students - Those questions were never addressed. The moderator of the webinar merely had members of professional associations ask questions, most of which were about PPE, Data on positivity rates, general reopening of schools. Parent Advocacy organizations complained that their questions were not even acknowledged. As concerned public and attendees shared, this entire webinar seemed to be superficial and a mere check box to be ticked in the Superintendent's tasks!
"I have written three emails to Tony Thurmond, three emails to the Governor's office, endless number of emails exchanged with the Special Education department at the California Dept. of Education regarding this and nothing has happened. The CDE special education consultant keeps referring me to CDPH, CDPH tells me its a CDE question, the School District says its a County prerogative, no one at the County responds to our requests, and in the meanwhile our children lose half a year of instruction, key interventions and supports to aid them in their development and progress. Who will give us back this crucial time of development ? Our children are just being kicked around like a football - that is all this has become - "Shifting blame and responsibility from agency to agency" while the most vulnerable of students who are already set up to fail, continue to fall victim to the apathy and nonchalance of those in power" - cried the parent who reached out to us right after this webinar. "Shame on you for not addressing our questions" - writes another facebook viewer and yet another writes - "All research shows special education services must be in person and one-to-one-its not safe for the population to be at home for 6 months now"
There are so many questions, yet no one has the gumption to take the matter up, or give people straightforward answers. Not the press, not the media, not even parent educators, school board trustees', advocacy organizations, none of the questions were answered when it came to addressing those most in need of support. This, especially at a time when there are no waivers or changes to IDEA which guarantees equitable access to FAPE (free and appropriate public education) for students with disabilities.
Is California leaving its most "in need" students and families behind ?