After a busy previous week focused on Extended School Year and Compensatory Services, the Texas Education Agency did not issue any updated guidance to the Special Education section of the COVID-19 Support webpage last week. While there were no updates exclusive to the Special Education section, TEA did issue a comprehensive six-page guidance in response to Governor Abbot’s May 18th Executive Order GA-23 regarding Summer Instruction, Activities and School Visits that has significant implications for Special Education departments that are considering how and when to begin opening back up for in-person evaluations, instruction and services. Additionally, the Guidance could prove very informative should TEA use it as a blueprint and/or basis for operations this coming Fall.
As an initial matter, TEA has mandated that “[s]ummer school attendance in person at school must be optional for students.” This means that districts are strictly prohibited from requiring in-person attendance. TEA has also cautioned that districts must limit in-person attendance to “[n]o more than eleven individuals…in an enclosed area together regularly.” TEA specifically notes that this includes “teachers, staff, and students”, which could restrict the ability to implement IEPs that require multiple service providers.
The guidance includes eight detailed Operational Considerations, including mandates that:
- all instruction should to be held in spaces that allow desks to be placed at least six feet apart;
- multiple groups of eleven in shared spaces must be kept separated by an empty space of at least 30 feet;
- field trips and other group gatherings observe the eleven person/30 foot rule; and
- districts give preference to gathering students outside rather than inside.
It is also important to note that TEA has recognized that the Operational Consideration prohibiting group or pair work that would require students to regularly interact within six feet “may not be possible for early childhood students and some students with disabilities”
However, one of the more pressing issues for special education may prove to be the Operational Considerations related to maintaining consistent groupings of people to minimize virus spread in the school. As an example, TEA explains:
[A] positive COVID-19 case in a school will require two-week closure of the individual’s class group. If, for example, three classes are taught by a single science teacher, and a student in one of those classes contracts COVID-19, all three classes are considered a single class group for purposes of potential exposure, because they all have extended exposure to an individual who could spread the virus.
This could prove to be logistically challenging and require careful reconsideration with respect to inclusion services. Even though a self-contained classroom would theoretically fair well under the guidance, schools will need to consider the effect of having related service providers access multiple classrooms and/or inadvertently acting as bridges between multiple learning environments.
TEA also issued new guidance on May 19th to its Special Populations webpage regarding Child Abuse, Neglect, and Human Trafficking. Districts are strongly encouraged to review this guidance, as it identifies “additional circumstances and considerations, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic” of which district staff should be made aware. These include pandemic-related circumstances that can make students more susceptible to child abuse, neglect, or trafficking; identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect during the pandemic; and additional risks or dangers related to distance learning.
Please don’t hesitate to contact Leasor Crass, P.C. if we can provide further assistance on these matters.