Aiming to bring some clarity to kids who need in-person, school-based services amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as to anxious parents and staff, California health officials issued rules and guidelines last month for how that might be done safely. On Wednesday, with coronavirus cases dipping, Los Angeles County announced it would begin implementing those rules on September 14.
A school year unlike any other is just getting underway, with most instruction taking place online to keep the virus in check, although districts may apply with local health officers for a waiver to open a classroom.
But families who have kids with special needs feel that in-person, intensive services are paramount, and the information they got this week comes not a moment too soon.
As expected, the rules are built around by-now familiar protocols: maintaining social distance, keeping groups as small, stable and exclusive as possible, frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces and wearing masks. Outdoor work is encouraged if it’s safe and practical.
Schools and districts should prioritize students with disabilities, according to the guidelines. Next should be English learners, students at higher risk of further learning loss or not participating in distance learning, students at risk of abuse or neglect, foster youth and homeless students.
Specialized services are locally determined, but they include occupational therapy services, speech and language services and other medical services, behavioral services, educational support services as part of a targeted intervention strategy or assessments, such as those related to English learner status, individualized educational programs and other required assessments.
The guidelines call for services to be delivered in groups of no more than 14 students and one or two supervising adults.
These groups will stay together all day and each day they are at the site and will not mix with other groups. Officials say these practices should decrease the chances of spreading the virus and will make the job tracing contacts easier if a COVID-19 case does pop up. Moreover, it allows for targeted testing, quarantine and isolation in that event so that the whole program need not be suspended.
Students may receive one-on-one services and supports under the plan, such as speech or occupational therapy or intensive tutoring, but these must be done individually and not with other students. Every effort should be made to assign staff to as few students as possible and to wear protective equipment according to the guidelines.