When the Carroll County Public Schools system goes back into session with remote learning this fall, special education students will have many of the same services available to them, but not all, an official says.
CCPS officials, as with other school systems throughout the state, have been trying to determine how the upcoming school year will function for those in special education programs.
According to Nick Shockney, CCPS director of special education, improving online learning for students with special needs has been one of the top priorities for the school system.
“A lot of what we do in special education obviously mirrors and aligns with what happens in general education, so in Carroll County public schools we very much want to enhance our virtual and distance learning,” he said.
Shockney said that since the end of the 2019-20 school year, the school system developed Individualized Continuity of Learning Plans, or ICLPs, for each student enrolled in special education programs. The plans, according to the CCPS website, were developed with families to outline what services and supports a student would receive during the school closure period.
“That was done collaboratively with families who are very much a part of the decision-making process in special education,” he said.
An ICLP, according to Shockney, is an agreement that takes the Individualized Education Plan, or IEP — documents that are designed to meet a specific child’s needs — and amends it (following an agreement between the family and the school) to reflect the changes that will come with virtual learning. The ICLP can address direct services, relating to speech and language; accommodations; and supplementary aids and supports. This is all documented in a student’s ICLP and will vary from student to student.
What will — and won’t — be provided
According to Shockney, whatever services the schools provided before, such as speech therapy or auditory learning, the schools will be able to provide virtually.
“Some services we’ve been able to do remotely through telehealth, like a lot of speech services,” he said. “What’s been harder to do remotely are services related to physical therapy.”
Physical therapy involves gross motor activities, he continued, and is typically supported by a speech therapist, which makes it difficult to be replicated in an online environment.
Therefore, according to Shockney, some programs and services will be owed back to students once schools reopen and are able to resume normal operations. “Those are called work recovery or compensatory services, and they will be determined by the IEP team once school resumes,” he said.
CCPS has also implemented the Summer Learning Virtual Series, a series of workshops that will be available to teachers and educators to participate in professional development throughout August.
“In this series, teachers and instructional assistants will participate in eight hours of professional learning all around that virtual setting,” Shockney said.
He later added, “The summer Virtual Learning Series is targeted at improving our ability to support not only students with disabilities, but for all students in an enhanced and virtual setting.”
Shockney also mentioned the county’s decision to implement the summer jumpstart program, beginning on Aug. 17, in which small groups of students would be allowed to enter school buildings for limited in-person classroom instruction.
This opportunity, according to Shockney, will only be available for students who are most at risk for struggling with online learning and those with the greatest needs in the special education program. “It’s not going to be for all students, it’s going to be for some,” he said.
If the number of COVID-19 cases improves, he said, “then maybe we can bring in more students over time, but we want to be very strategic and progressive while also maintaining the safety of the students and staff.”
The option for students in special education to receive some in-person instruction was supported by Katelyn Kirby, executive director of Together We Own It, a Westminster-based youth nonprofit that strives to serve children struggling with mental health, trauma and poverty.
“Whether they don’t know and whether they lack connectivity or not, just trying to sit down and focus on their own on just a computer screen is really challenging,” she said.
According to Kirby, students who have disabilities and have special needs stand to lose the most when it comes to virtual learning. Their biggest downfall is the lack of relationship building and human connection that they would be able to get from an in-person classroom.
“I know for a lot of my kids, there’s a lot going on at home and a lot of lack of structure, support, and stability. So trying to do virtual learning at home is nearly impossible,” she said.
Kirby said her nonprofit will be providing satellite learning locations to give students the opportunity to learn in smaller groups with volunteer educators in order to provide additional support. Two groups of 15 people, at the most, will be at a satellite learning location at any time. One location has been established so far, at 77 John St. in Westminster, she said, and just over 40 students — some have diagnoses of anxiety and ADHD, and others are living in intense poverty — are currently registered.
Anyone interested may sign up at www.OwnItLearningCoop.org. Options will be offered at the Westminster site for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Kirby encourages other nonprofits and community organizations in the area to open small learning settings where kids can receive some sort of in-person learning opportunities outside of school.
“There are kids that are just really going to struggle at home, and if you can bring them back safely then I think that we should be doing that in some sort of capacity,” Kirby said. “Hopefully by providing kids some additional education and hands-on learning, they’ll be able to step right back up from where they left off.”