Beginning in March, Education Alternatives joined thousands of IEP schools nationwide in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. As special education professionals, we understand that while remote education can be an important safety measure, it presents unique difficulties for special education students and their families. From disruption of routine to frustrating technological issues, virtual school may cause students to lose progress or even trigger new behaviors.
This fall, when considering the options for EA students, our administration looked closely at state, local, and national school guidelines and consulted with our families and educators. Currently, EA operates on a hybrid model where students are physically on-campus four days per week, with one remote learning day designated for deep cleaning. Parents and caregivers may also choose an online-only experience.
To keep in-person learning safe, EA follows a five-pronged plan consisting of:
- Symptom checks
- Hand washing
- Daily sanitation
- Face coverings
- Social distancing
Developed in partnership with the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Department of Health, these steps create a layered approach of mutually reinforcing practices. Together, all of these measures are more effective than any one of them would be on their own.
This model has been proven successful on our campuses and across northeast Ohio in keeping students attending in-person school as much as possible. We are confident that ongoing compliance will allow us to continue to provide these services safely, even as COVID-19 dynamics shift locally. The keys to our success?
- Clear communication – Students learn, in an age-appropriate way, the importance of these practices in keeping their family and community healthy. As a behavioral health school, our educators are skilled in reinforcing positive behaviors through goal-setting, regular check-ins, rewards, space for processing any frustrations, and mutual trust.
- Small classes and staff-to-student ratios – EA classrooms are already capped at twelve students, with many special programs like the Coral Autism Program at as few as six. By its nature, our program allows maximum social distancing and adequate educator and mental health support to make those policies successful. Every EA classroom has at least one trained professional to every six students.
- Mental wellness – Using cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy, students at EA already receive three or more hours per day of dedicated mental health support. Through REACH Behavioral Health, our mental health professionals work with students to process any fear, frustration, anxiety, or depression using the same core skills we teach even in “normal” times.
When remote school is necessary, EA understands the critical importance of ensuring all virtual processes are appropriate for students on IEPs. These strategies include:
- Family communication – Educators work hand-in-hand with parents to ensure the behavior supports outlined in the student’s IEP are integrated into a virtual lesson plan. By talking through needs and concerns and keeping open lines of communication for any troubleshooting, caregivers can feel confident that their child’s unique needs are still driving their academic and therapeutic goals at home.
- Multiple modalities – While synchronous learning is often considered ideal, some students may struggle with screens or have difficulty maintaining attention when using technology. EA teachers accept student work in multiple formats, including by mail. They also provide innovative supports like online videos that students can watch later if they are struggling with a concept or had difficulty giving their full attention to the live class. With years of experience in diverse learning styles, EA is well-positioned to provide an online experience that meets your child where they are without demanding that they conform to rigid expectations.
- Care and compassion – Remote learning can feel impersonal or distant, making momentary frustrations seem much larger and more consequential. EA educators and facilitators use our philosophy of Unconditional Positive Regard to boost student confidence and soothe stress when things feel difficult. When problems arise, teachers and counselors are trained to look for the root causes beyond the very obvious and commit to listen, empathize, and meet students where they are. Personal connection drives our process, and students respond best when they feel their teachers non-judgmentally understand their struggles, triumphs, and challenges beyond the surface level.
Together, the EA community is making both in-person and remote education possible every day, for every student. Whatever your child’s needs, we are prepared to safely meet them in the format that best serves your lifestyle and schedule.