Post COVID-19 Pilot Program for Students with Autism

California’s Marin County Paving Way for National Special Education

Classrooms across the nation will be facing numerous modifications as students return to school after the Corona Virus pandemic. Social distancing, face coverings, reduced classroom size and staggered school schedules are only a handful of proposed changes suggested to mitigate risk of contagion on campuses. These new changes will be difficult for all students and teachers but could be particularly challenging for special education students, staffers, and faculty.

When distance learning became a reality for millions of American students, it was far from an ideal situation. However, learning outside the classroom posed even more difficulties for special education students. Carolyn Marney, a special education instructor from Houston, feels that the impact from several months of remote learning will be more exaggerated and harder to overcome for those with special challenges. She explains, “We know all students, especially children with special needs, thrive when there’s consistency. Without that consistency, I’m convinced kids will lose ground and we will likely see regression that will need to be addressed when this crisis has ended.”

The importance of providing a meaningful education to a vulnerable student population while at the same time trying to alleviate regression is critical. But how will school districts across the country instruct these students and deal with new COVID safety procedures? One California Bay Area school has been tasked to answer that question. A pilot program overseen by the Marin County Department of Education is giving the country a glimpse of what a post COVID special needs classroom will look like.

Five special education students along with their teacher and three paraprofessionals at San Jose Middle School in Novato started back to classroom learning in the middle of May. Three additional classmates have joined the class via distance learning. This special classroom which is following strict health department guidelines is demonstrating that social distancing is possible, however, it takes a large amount of planning, supervision, and many changes.

Instead of transportation via special education busses, parents now drive their students to school. Once they arrive on campus, students and parents visit a table outside the school entrance where their student’s temperature is taken. Parents fill out a health questionnaire about their family’s current health status. Questions like has anyone had a cough, fever or been exposed to anyone with coronavirus in the previous two weeks are answered. The student’s next stop is to have their backpacks wiped down with disinfectants.

In the classroom, student’s desks are six feet apart and surrounded by tape shaped into a box on the floor which provides students with a visual reminder of social distancing guidelines. Throughout the school day hand sanitizer and wipes are used. Masks are worn by the students who can tolerate them. The teacher and paraprofessionals monitor students’ movements so there is always six feet apart between students. Lunch is now brought from home. The cafeteria is closed. Instead of recess on the playground, a long walk is taken with students six feet apart so social distancing rules can be observed. Another temperature check is taken mid-day to monitor the students’ health.

Marin County Office of Education’s Assistant Superintendent, Ken Lippi is excited for their pilot program. He believes that administrators will learn a great deal from the experience of this classroom for the next school year. Lippi explained to KPIX, “It’s not only an experiment for us, it gets us back to why we’re in this, which is to be with our kids in a classroom setting where those relationships can be built.”

Cindy Evans, the lead teacher for the pilot program, was very optimistic after the first week of class. She stated, “It’s been running so much more smoothly than I thought it would.”

Resources

Staff Writer. After COVID, We Will Need Greater Investments in Special Education. American Federation of Teachers. April 2, 2020.

Louis Freedberg. With Masks and Social Distance, These Special Ed Students Have Already Returned to School. EdSource. May 27, 2020.

Don Ford. Newly Converted Marin County Classrooms Show How Learning Will Adapt to COVID-19. KPIX San Francisco. May 18, 2020.

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