As we face a pandemic which includes both COVID-19 and the the centuries-old public health crisis of systemic institutional racism, we, the leadership of the Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Committee urge CPS to prioritize the physical and emotional safety of our children with special needs, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Under life and death conditions, we must also stand up for the physical and emotional safety of the educators and staff who care for and educate our children.
CPS must collaborate with families and caregivers to ensure the removal of additional barriers faced by students with special learning needs to receive a free appropriate public education. We urge the district to adopt a remote educational model at the start of the school year, making in-person education the exception and not the default. And, we urge CPS to prioritize students with the most needs and the least resources for in person learning and partner with caregivers and students to plan for safe, in-person learning options for these students.
Priority students must include younger children, some students with special needs of all ages, placements and grade levels, and students at risk of dropping out of school, including those who failed to engage with remote learning. CPS must do whatever it takes to make sure that all of the trauma experienced by students due to COVID does not result in further lifelong trauma due to a failure to complete high school.
Decisions must be made through equity-driven partnerships and relationships, and not one-size-fits all. Equity means that students who need more, must receive more.
Targeted outreach to families must be provided to ensure understanding and provide families with the opportunity to opt-in and have their children attend school in a physical classroom with co-created and realistic safety procedures that minimize the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus from home to school. This communication should be done by phone call or video meeting whenever possible.
For students on IEPs, CPS must ensure that students receive appropriate accommodations that both goals and services outlined in their IEP are adapted based on the different conditions present with remote learning. This includes collaborating with caregivers so that additional needed services are added to the IEP without delay if they are needed to ensure that students receive a free and appropriate education in a remote context. These may include additional goals, accommodations, or services that had not previously been needed.
Additionally, for Special Education Students, CPS must ensure that students are provided thorough transition planning services starting by age 14. CPS should collaborate with the student and caregivers to ensure that the transition planning goals are truly about the student’s dreams for adult living and address all of the competencies necessary to make the student’s dreams come true. Due to the constraints of what can be accomplished under COVID, we demand that CPS extend the timeframe to accomplish the students transition plan beyond age 22 if needed.
In order to maximize learning in a remote context for ALL students, CPS must take decisive action to provide high-quality, consistent, interactive and relationship-driven remote learning opportunities for students who are able to participate and access the curriculum through this medium. We expect our students to receive a robust education that addresses their learning gaps and continues to teach new content.
CPS should utilize all staff to reach out and develop relationships with students. Some staff could be assigned to be “youth outreach workers” to text reminders and make phone calls to ensure that students are engaged.
In addition, CPS must collaborate with all educators and staff to ensure that they receive the support they need to effectively serve students remotely including partnering with caregivers to determine what works best for students to make progress. In the interest of transparency, learning benchmark assessments should be shared and discussed with parents regularly, whether or not a student has an IEP.
CPS must also teach students how to plan for and organize their day for remote learning. This includes explicit teaching of schedule planning, calendar use, alarms, and notifications. Expectations should be clear around attendance and remaining focused and engaged during virtual lessons.
Finally, CPS must work with caregivers, teachers, and principals to change its discipline procedures to one of restorative justice and positive behavioral support. This means eliminating the practices of suspensions and expulsions. For too long, black and brown students, particularly those with disabilities, have been excluded from school due to behavioral concerns by either sending the student to the office, calling the parent to pick them up without documenting this as a suspension, or through formal suspension or expulsion from school. We are concerned that increased policing of student’s bodies will occur due to COVID concerns, and that this will be used to further marginalize this population and deny them the same learning opportunities as their peers.
We look forward to continued collaboration as we all look for solutions that will best serve students in Cambridge.