Part I: Prep for Day 1

It’s back-to-virtual-school week! And so we begin! To ease us into the first few months of the fall semester, we’re bringing you a series of articles focusing on our biggest concerns and challenges, with actionable information to get the year off to a strong start. In short: we’re interested in exploring the gap between IEP goals and the reality on the ground, and what we can do to address that gap. Among our priorities are accessibility and accommodations, prepping for IEP addendums, upcoming and overdue assessments, teasing out needed therapies (virtual and otherwise), how to approach compensatory ed, and how IEP services are delivered during crisis situations — to name a few. 

To get us started, our legal consultant and special education lawyer, Grace Clark, talks about what we as parents need to do to prepare for day 1.

Back-to-school preparations for the 2020–2021 school year look a lot different from previous years. As I’m writing this, thirty-eight counties, representing 97% of California’s population, remain on the governor’s watch list, meaning they must start off the year in a distance learning format. After a recognition that distance learning did not go well last spring, schools have new requirements and guidelines that will ensure more engaging, rigorous, and comprehensive learning.  Since kids will be attending daily classes in a video conference format, it is important for them to have a quiet place to do so.

Dedicated work space: Ideally, kids should have a dedicated work space that they can use each day. This space should have enough room for their laptop or iPad, as well as a pad of paper and a workbook or textbook. It’s worth putting some thought into where you should create your child’s workspace. Is your child easily distracted by noise from siblings and household life? Perhaps you can fit a desk into their bedroom. Or, does your child need frequent help from you? Maybe they will do best at the kitchen table. Headphones are also important if you have multiple people sharing the same workspace.

Wifi Extender: Another item from which some families benefit is a wifi extender. With parents and children all working and schooling from home, multiple people in your household might need to access video conferencing at the same time. There suddenly may not be enough bandwidth to go around. A wifi extender can help with speed and buffering, and can also help your wifi extend to parts of the house that were not previously receiving strong service. This way, people in the home are less likely to lose connectivity during video conferencing.

A Schedule: Unlike during the spring, distance learning this fall will involve a specific start time each morning that includes role taking. However, similar to the spring, there will also be a time for independent work. Making a schedule with your child can help both of you manage expectations and flow more easily through the day. Your child’s schedule might include times for school, times for homework with your help, times for independent work, and time for independent play. It’s also important to include movement breaks and time outside. Think about mixing up preferred and non-preferred activities. The age and capability of your child will influence what your schedule looks like. Many children, from pre-readers to those with high support needs, can benefit from a visual schedule made from pictures and a discussion of how you expect the day to go.

Finally, let’s take a minute to talk about expectations. In my personal opinion, I believe we need to enter this year with an open mind. Spring distance learning was stressful and disappointing, and it left most families feeling that their children did not learn and progress. Many may have experienced regression. School districts have developed more robust plans for the fall, and the governor has directed minimum standards for education that far exceed what most children experienced last spring. So it’s important to think of this year as a fresh start that won’t replicate what we usually experience with in-person school, but should also provide our children with more learning and success than we experienced last spring.

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