After being away from classrooms for many months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of Huntington UFSD students are back in the swing of things in the extended year special education program.
Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the green light last month to reopen school for the program and students couldn’t happier. “All of us are exhilarated to be back in school,” said Diana Rich, Huntington UFSD’s director of special education and student support services. “I am so impressed with the hard work of our summer staff members and their enthusiasm for returning. I am so proud of our students for transitioning back to school so smoothly, especially with so many changes put into place.”
Returning to the classroom suited students, parents, teachers and support staff members just fine. “There were a lot of very happy smiling faces walking through the doors of Woodhull Intermediate School on July 6 and it was just so great to see the students again after the extended closure,” Ms. Rich said. “The students arrived ready to work and got right back into the routine seamlessly. I am grateful for the support of the administration, Huntington School Board, parents and staff. Without their support we could not have opened.”
“Students, staff and parents are thrilled with the opportunity to resume on-site learning this summer,” Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky said. “The resilience on the part of all students has been incredible and their transition back into school has been nothing short of positive.”
The district had been prepared to implement a “robust” distance learning program before Governor Cuomo signed an executive order on June 5 permitting in-person special education services this summer.
“Planning began immediately with multiple district members including central administration, buildings and grounds and transportation,” Ms. Rich said. “There are quite a few changes from how our summer program has run in the past.”
Transportation and facilities staff members played a key role in setting the stage for the reopening. District personnel worked collaboratively to quickly put everything in place for students.
“In order to follow the New York State Department of Health interim advisory for providing in person special education services, we decided to operate a hybrid program consisting of a combination of in person and distance learning services on a Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday schedule,” Ms. Rich said. “While students receive instruction every day of the week, they are in school twice per week and receive remote instruction on the days they are not scheduled to attend school. The hybrid model was designed to reduce the number of students in class and to maintain social distancing to the best extent possible.”
The program is set to run for six weeks from July 6 through August 14. The 12:1+ (3:1) class is 5.5 hours daily for students recommended for a full day program. Arrival and departure times have been staggered to reduce the number students on buses. Staggered start and end times were based on grade levels 1-5 or 6-12.
The half day program is either 1.5 or 3 hours in length for the specialized instruction programs for math and English language arts between 8–11 a.m. “A handful of students come in for related services only such as speech, OT, PT and counseling,” Ms. Rich said. “We are operating six full day classrooms and three half day classes this summer with nine teachers, 12 teacher aides, three speech therapists, one nurse, two occupational therapists, one physical therapist and one social worker.”
There is a maximum of six students and three staff members in one classroom per day so as to reduce the number of students/staff in the building On remote instruction days, students receive two live synchronous 40 minute instructional periods, office hours and posting of assignments from their teacher.
“Thank you to Ms. Rich, teachers and staff for crafting an engaging program and for providing our children with an abundance of support after a challenging few months,” Mr. Polansky said. “Additional thanks to district staff for preparing and maintaining the facility, allowing for a seamless start and continued implementation of the program.”
Last week’s program saw 53 students present in school to receive services. Others chose to participate online only and a small number declined all summer services.
“Prior to the program starting, parents were provided with a detailed letter explaining the program and safety measures being implemented,” Ms. Rich said. “Parents were asked to indicate their intention for receiving in person services, remote services only or if they intended to decline extended school year services.”
Parents were asked to sign a notification regarding a daily health assessment of their child and they were also asked if they would be using or declining summer transportation services.
“This communication also included a description of the program, the safety measures and schedules for remote learning times on the days students were not scheduled to be in school,” Ms. Rich said. “Parents were provided with a full distance learning schedule in the event that there was a new order at any point in the summer so that staff and students were fully prepared to transition to a full time distance learning extended school year program if necessary.”
Extended school year services are recommend by the district’s Committee on Special Education after the CSE reviews data, which indicates that a student with a disability will experience substantial regression in the absence of continuous instruction.
“While all students typically regress to some degree over the summer months, substantial regression is defined as taking eight weeks or longer to recuperate previously acquired skills,” Ms. Rich explained. “The goal and purpose of the extended school year program is for students with disabilities to maintain progress with individual goals and to prevent substantial regression of skills.”
The district imposed several safety measures and modifications this summer, including:
- Parents are required to complete a daily health assessment of their child before sending to school.
- Staff are required to submit a daily health assessment prior to reporting to work and their temperature is taken daily prior to entering the building.
- All staff are required to wear masks. Students are not required to wear masks, but are encouraged to do so.
- Students wash their hands upon arrival to school, before meal/snack times and after related service sessions as well as periodically throughout the school day.
- Staff have been provided with personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes.
- Increased cleaning and sanitization schedules, which are logged and maintained daily.
- Speech therapists and other staff have been provided with clear face shields.
- Students have been provided with their own bag of personal materials. (Sharing of materials is not permitted.)
- Classroom desks face forward and are placed six feet apart.
- Related services are provided in a maximum group size of two and students are only grouped within their existing classroom (not with students from other classrooms).
- Social distancing markers are placed on the floors of the hallways and classrooms.
- Handwashing signs posted throughout the building.
- No visitors are permitted in building and no visiting of staff and students is allowed across classrooms.
- All special events and activities are canceled in order to avoid large groupings.