Testimony of Cecelia Thompson to the BOE, March 26, 2020

Good Evening School Board President Wilkerson, School Board Members, Superintendent Dr. Hite, School District Staff, Students, Families, and Community. My name is Cecelia Thompson and my topic this evening are the Lack of Educational Learning Materials, Supports, and Services for Special Education Students.

First, let me start by saying these are trying and difficult times during this pandemic. This is our version of the Bubonic plague. The sacrifices being made by all, including students and their families, and, the staff and their families with the District are much appreciated. However, both versions of the Learning Packets do not address the needs of students receiving special education services. The answers given for families are “pick the appropriate grade and packet for your special needs child”. These Learning Packets are for teachers to develop lesson plans for students. Maybe in September 2019, with the proper instruction to prepare lessons for a special needs child, these would be appropriate. But, during these challenging and uncertain times for families, including those who are deemed necessary and risking infection from being in the public, reading and coming up with lessons for any child is difficult. Devising lessons for children receiving special education academics, supports, and services, is almost impossible. Some challenges include:

  1. Disruption in routines for children living with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism.
  2. Extreme behaviors due to the disruption.
  3. The tension and stress in households as financial resources are being depleted due to cut in hours ortotal loss of employment.
  4. Children not understanding why they are not in school with their friends and not having the language to express such, causing challenging behaviors.

Furthermore, the resources, for examples, for students living with autism are about scheduling and the Coronavirus and not instruction. And, the Occupational Therapy materials suggest families become School Based Occupational Therapists to complete these tasks. This is simply unacceptable to put on families who are having the aforementioned challenges and more being at home with their special needs children. By now, the District has received guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education which received guidance from the Office of Special Education Programs stating local education agencies, for FAPE, provide learning, supports, and services to students receiving special education services.

So, what can the District do to provide FAPE for their Special Education Students. Below are some suggestions:

  1. At minimum, inform all special education teachers they can provide materials to families for their students. Families can have the option to pick up these materials from the school, pick up the materials at a school near them (many special education students are bused to schools outside their neighborhoods), or, email the work to the students. Note: Some special education teachers were doing so, but, were told not to by their principal through communication from the District last week. Because this document has not been made public, I cannot comment on the contents, and therefore do not know if there was a misunderstanding of the communication.Have meetings with families, via Business Skype, Zoom, or phone call, on how to best provide the other services students are receiving, such as speech, OT, ABA, and other supports.
  2. If students were using interventions in schools, provide families with the appropriate information to access these programs at home. If they need technology and internet access, this, per articles where Dr. Hite was quoted, be available to these families.
  3. The materials for Complex Needs Learners is not what those students were doing in school. For this population, a communication between their teacher and families is paramount. In terms of communication with families, educators are to be mandated to communicate with families at times convenient for the families and not the educators. These are families who are the first responders, hospital workers, those at testing sites, those working at grocery stores, and any other worker deemed necessary to sustain life as per Mayor Kenny’s Order, need to have conversations at times other than between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm.
  4. Moreover, while not pertaining to the special needs population, the hours for the learning materials of 9:30a-11:30a are not convenient for working families. Please consider 6p-8p for those who desire to speak to a live person. And, those on the phones need to be educators. When I used the hotline, the person admitted not being an educator. Instead, my information was referred to a Special Education Director, which gave me the information on the website.
  5. Finally, please consider having Zoom-type communications with families to hear their concerns. While it would not be live-streamed, it can be recorded and listen by the public within 24 hours. Families and the Community do want to help. They need a way to communicate with the Board of Education live, so they feel heard and their comments valued and appreciated.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my comments in writing this evening.