In developing the Special Education reopening plan for Darien Public Schools, many departments worked closely together, including the Special Education and Student Services administration, the CT State Department of Education and its Bureau of Special Education, as well as building administrators.

District practices regarding screening children with social and emotional concerns relating to the closing or reopening of school were identified.

Additionally, there was much discussion on students with unique health issues, those who need adaptive living and mobility support, and those with behavioral challenges.

Individualized protocols were also addressed, which involved changes to classroom spaces, adaptive living protocols, procedural meeting facilitation, student cohorts, feeding, special transportation, PPE, evaluation procedures, and restraint and seclusion procedures.

Flexibility

According to the reopening plan, during the pandemic, schools may not have been able to provide all services in the way they’re typically offered. However, Federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to meet the individualized needs of students receiving special education services.

If students with learning differences are unable to access the reopening plan as designed, the plan said the District will facilitate individualized and alternative means of reentry based upon student need, present levels of functioning, developmental levels, and student/parent input.

Additionally, the District will address mask and face covering use for students receiving special education services, including cases where masks may need to be removed to provide appropriate services.

To view the Darien Schools’ Reopening Plan in its entirety, visit darienps.org and scroll to page 50 for Special Education.

SEPAC

The Darien Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC) said it’s working to ensure all students will get the services they need to thrive and succeed.

According to its website, SEPAC is an independent organization of parent volunteers committed to open communication and effective collaboration between the families in the Darien community and Darien Public Schools. For more on SEPAC, visit dariensepac.wordpress.com/.

Darien’s SEPAC’s co-chairs — Tricia Bresnahan, Courtney Darby, Kelly DuPont, and Jamie Zionic — told The Darien Times that the State of Connecticut Department of Education said districts need to include parents and students in the process of providing feedback in students’ education on an ongoing basis. This will give both parents and students “a voice” in the process as it takes place, as opposed to just getting told what happened, they said.

District Reopening Schools Task Force

The District Reopening Schools Task Force is composed of district administrators, teachers and employees. There are no parents on this committee.

Darien SEPAC said it would like to be included on a subcommittee that reports to and hears from this task force throughout the school reopening process.

“Ongoing communication between DPS and families will be essential to ensure individualized education programs and related services are being delivered in an accessible format to every student requiring those programs and services,” SEPAC said.

Compensatory services

The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) said, according to SEPAC, "Where, due to the global pandemic and resulting closures of schools, there has been an inevitable delay in providing services — or even making decisions about how to provide services —IEP [Individualized Education Program] teams must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed when schools resume normal operations,” the CSDE said.

Precautions against COVID-19

In regard to Social Distancing & Use of Face Coverings, Masks, and Face Shields,” in the document “Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together,” issued by the CSDE, when school resumes, it must adopt policies requiring the use of face coverings for all students and staff when they’re inside the school building.

Exceptions include:

 Those who have trouble breathing or are unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

 Those with a medical reason, making it unsafe to wear a face covering.

Additionally, according to the document, the CSDE has issued the following guidance, including:

 Teachers should maintain the recommended social distancing to the maximum extent possible.

 Teachers should prepare in advance for times when social distancing may be particularly difficult.

 If required, students or staff may wear face shields and clear masks, or remove masks when face coverings or masks are not appropriate for the activity.

 Staff working with students who are not wearing face coverings and also can’t maintain social distancing should be provided increased protective equipment, such as medical-grade masks and disposable gowns.

 Identifying students who’ve had the most difficulty accessing remote learning opportunities and prioritizing their access to in-person instruction. For example, this would apply to students who may require direct physical assistance for safety, health and self-care, such as feeding, toileting, and activities of daily living.

 Training staff in the use of emergency physical interventions and PPE. This would apply to students who have significant communication and/or executive functioning deficits such impaired vision or hearing.

 Be prepared for certain high-risk students who may require continuing remote instruction full time due to underlying health conditions, undergoing disease treatment, or those with family members who are at risk.

The CSDE document said while reopening may present challenges for all students, those with disabilities may experience these challenges “to a greater extent” than their peers, and “take longer to re-mediate lost skills.”

Additionally, the document said students with disabilities may be “disproportionately affected” by changes in their education, which must result in flexibility in how they return to the school environment.

“Priority is safety”

Alan Addley, Darien Superintendent of Schools, said serving the special needs student population is a “priority” in the town’s return to school plan.

He reiterated that “All students are to be part of the plan to come back.”

He added that all students with special needs, including those with respiratory and behavioral needs that require close proximity with staff, are being addressed on “an individual basis at this point.”

Schools have conducted focus groups with parents to get their feedback on how they would like school to look, according to Addley.

“The priority is the safety of our kids and adults, so we have to look at that very carefully,” he said.

In regard to adult safety, Addley said the general direction is for caregivers to be required to equip themselves with full PPE equipment when working with students.

“If there is any other situation that would possibly require less than that, we would have to look at it on a completely individual basis,” he said.

sfox@darientimes.com