News

State allows schools to reopen in person for small groups, prioritizing students with disabilities

New guidelines require stable cohorts of 14 or fewer students with no more than 2 adults

William Foster, a student attendant with the Palo Alto Unified School District Extended School Year program, helps Alexandra Bell during the summer program at Greene Middle School on July 9. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Small groups of special education students could soon return to school in person under new, much-anticipated guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health on Wednesday.

The guidance, which applies to public and private schools as well as nonprofits, child care programs, recreation camps, before- and after-school programs and youth groups, allows schools whose counties are still on the state's watchlist — meaning their schools can't fully reopen yet — to serve select students in "controlled, supervised, and indoor environments."

Schools do not need approval from their local health departments to provide this small-group, in-person instruction, the Department of Public Health said.

"The purpose of this guidance is to establish minimum parameters for providing specialized services, targeted services and support for students while schools are otherwise closed for in-person instruction in ways that maintain the focus on health and safety to minimize transmission," a FAQ on the guidance reads.

School districts should prioritize bringing back students with disabilities who need services such as occupational therapy or behavioral support, the FAQ states. Schools can also prioritize 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 students experiencing homelessness.

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This comes as welcome news in particular for families of students with moderate to severe disabilities who say distance learning is falling short for their children and have been clamoring for face-to-face instruction. Palo Alto Unified is also hopeful it would mean a new program the district created to provide targeted support for struggling students could take place in person.

Superintendent Don Austin said he's encouraged by the guidance, which district staff are reviewing and need to discuss with the teachers and classified employee unions before implementing.

"We want to go as fast as we can reasonably move," he said on Wednesday. "I don't think we have to have every single part of the plan dialed out before we start bringing back some students."

Under the state Public Health Department's guidelines, students can only return in stable groups of no more than 14 children and no more than two adults, who stay together for all activities and avoid contact with people outside of their group while at school. The cohorts must remain separate for activities such as art, music and exercise, and should have their own classroom space. Students can, however, receive one-to-one specialized services from an outside service provider that's not part of the cohort.

Cohorts can be smaller than 14 or can be divided into subgroups, as long as the 14-to-2 ratio is not exceeded. The groups should be created based on student needs and kept as small as possible to limit the risk of spreading the coronavirus, the Department of Public Health said.

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"This practice decreases opportunities for exposure to or transmission of the virus; facilitates more efficient contact tracing in the event of a positive case; and allows for targeted testing, quarantine, and isolation of a single cohort instead of an entire population of children or youth and supervising adults in the event of a positive case or cluster of cases," the guidance reads.

The cap on cohort sizes will prove challenging for students with more severe disabilities who need one-on-one aides, said Kimberly Eng-Lee, co-chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education in Palo Alto.

"It's not inclusion, but it will be instruction and access," she said. "The pandemic and resulting move to distance-only learning has had a profound impact on students with disabilities and their families. This is a good start for kids that simply cannot be supported by a box on a screen, and who are actually regressing at home."

Within a cohort, physical distancing between children "should be balanced with developmental and socio‐emotional needs of the age group," the guidance reads, while adults must socially distance "to the greatest extent possible," the guidance states. Both adults and students must wear face coverings.

If staff from different cohorts need to meet, they should do so remotely, outdoors or in large spaces such as gymnasiums or multipurpose rooms, with the windows open and staying at least 6 feet away from one another.

Local school officials, in collaboration with local health departments and school staff, should determine how many cohorts a campus can safely accommodate to avoid interactions between groups but in general, the number of students on a given school site should not exceed 25% of the school's enrollment size or available capacity, the FAQ states.

The new guidance is meant to supplement, not supersede existing public health directives for schools, child care, day camps, youth sports and higher education institutions.

It also applies to elementary schools that haven't received a waiver from their local public health department to reopen. In Santa Clara County, only one school district — Moreland School District in San Jose — has received the green light to offer in-person instruction to elementary school students with disabilities and distance-learning support services to elementary school students, according to an online list of waiver approvals. San Mateo County has not yet issued any reopening waivers,

according to Patricia Love, administrator of strategy and communications for the San Mateo County Office of Education.

Statewide, as of Aug. 25, the California Department of Public Health had approved more than 100 elementary school reopening waivers.

In Palo Alto Unified, the district has still been unable to reach agreement with the teachers union on how and when to reopen schools for certain groups of students, including special education students. The teachers union has proposed students with disabilities and at-risk students come back to school in a hybrid/modified model when Santa Clara County is off the state's watchlist for 14 days, and that elementary school students would return at the same time as middle and high schoolers. The district, meanwhile, is lobbying for a staggered reopening approach that brings students with higher needs back sooner than others.

On Tuesday night, the school board approved new agreements on working conditions with the union, committing to further negotiations on these and other issues. The agreements don't prevent the district from offering the newly permissible small-group instruction in person, Austin said.

"We'll make sure that the people that are charged with serving, especially especial education, have everything they need to feel comfortable and safe and that we can provide a good learning environment for our students," he told the Weekly.

Austin said he'll provide an update on the district's next steps on the new guidance in a weekly message sent out to families every Friday.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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State allows schools to reopen in person for small groups, prioritizing students with disabilities

New guidelines require stable cohorts of 14 or fewer students with no more than 2 adults

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 26, 2020, 9:45 am
Updated: Wed, Aug 26, 2020, 11:15 am

Small groups of special education students could soon return to school in person under new, much-anticipated guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health on Wednesday.

The guidance, which applies to public and private schools as well as nonprofits, child care programs, recreation camps, before- and after-school programs and youth groups, allows schools whose counties are still on the state's watchlist — meaning their schools can't fully reopen yet — to serve select students in "controlled, supervised, and indoor environments."

Schools do not need approval from their local health departments to provide this small-group, in-person instruction, the Department of Public Health said.

"The purpose of this guidance is to establish minimum parameters for providing specialized services, targeted services and support for students while schools are otherwise closed for in-person instruction in ways that maintain the focus on health and safety to minimize transmission," a FAQ on the guidance reads.

School districts should prioritize bringing back students with disabilities who need services such as occupational therapy or behavioral support, the FAQ states. Schools can also prioritize 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 students experiencing homelessness.

This comes as welcome news in particular for families of students with moderate to severe disabilities who say distance learning is falling short for their children and have been clamoring for face-to-face instruction. Palo Alto Unified is also hopeful it would mean a new program the district created to provide targeted support for struggling students could take place in person.

Superintendent Don Austin said he's encouraged by the guidance, which district staff are reviewing and need to discuss with the teachers and classified employee unions before implementing.

"We want to go as fast as we can reasonably move," he said on Wednesday. "I don't think we have to have every single part of the plan dialed out before we start bringing back some students."

Under the state Public Health Department's guidelines, students can only return in stable groups of no more than 14 children and no more than two adults, who stay together for all activities and avoid contact with people outside of their group while at school. The cohorts must remain separate for activities such as art, music and exercise, and should have their own classroom space. Students can, however, receive one-to-one specialized services from an outside service provider that's not part of the cohort.

Cohorts can be smaller than 14 or can be divided into subgroups, as long as the 14-to-2 ratio is not exceeded. The groups should be created based on student needs and kept as small as possible to limit the risk of spreading the coronavirus, the Department of Public Health said.

"This practice decreases opportunities for exposure to or transmission of the virus; facilitates more efficient contact tracing in the event of a positive case; and allows for targeted testing, quarantine, and isolation of a single cohort instead of an entire population of children or youth and supervising adults in the event of a positive case or cluster of cases," the guidance reads.

The cap on cohort sizes will prove challenging for students with more severe disabilities who need one-on-one aides, said Kimberly Eng-Lee, co-chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education in Palo Alto.

"It's not inclusion, but it will be instruction and access," she said. "The pandemic and resulting move to distance-only learning has had a profound impact on students with disabilities and their families. This is a good start for kids that simply cannot be supported by a box on a screen, and who are actually regressing at home."

Within a cohort, physical distancing between children "should be balanced with developmental and socio‐emotional needs of the age group," the guidance reads, while adults must socially distance "to the greatest extent possible," the guidance states. Both adults and students must wear face coverings.

If staff from different cohorts need to meet, they should do so remotely, outdoors or in large spaces such as gymnasiums or multipurpose rooms, with the windows open and staying at least 6 feet away from one another.

Local school officials, in collaboration with local health departments and school staff, should determine how many cohorts a campus can safely accommodate to avoid interactions between groups but in general, the number of students on a given school site should not exceed 25% of the school's enrollment size or available capacity, the FAQ states.

The new guidance is meant to supplement, not supersede existing public health directives for schools, child care, day camps, youth sports and higher education institutions.

It also applies to elementary schools that haven't received a waiver from their local public health department to reopen. In Santa Clara County, only one school district — Moreland School District in San Jose — has received the green light to offer in-person instruction to elementary school students with disabilities and distance-learning support services to elementary school students, according to an online list of waiver approvals. San Mateo County has not yet issued any reopening waivers,

according to Patricia Love, administrator of strategy and communications for the San Mateo County Office of Education.

Statewide, as of Aug. 25, the California Department of Public Health had approved more than 100 elementary school reopening waivers.

In Palo Alto Unified, the district has still been unable to reach agreement with the teachers union on how and when to reopen schools for certain groups of students, including special education students. The teachers union has proposed students with disabilities and at-risk students come back to school in a hybrid/modified model when Santa Clara County is off the state's watchlist for 14 days, and that elementary school students would return at the same time as middle and high schoolers. The district, meanwhile, is lobbying for a staggered reopening approach that brings students with higher needs back sooner than others.

On Tuesday night, the school board approved new agreements on working conditions with the union, committing to further negotiations on these and other issues. The agreements don't prevent the district from offering the newly permissible small-group instruction in person, Austin said.

"We'll make sure that the people that are charged with serving, especially especial education, have everything they need to feel comfortable and safe and that we can provide a good learning environment for our students," he told the Weekly.

Austin said he'll provide an update on the district's next steps on the new guidance in a weekly message sent out to families every Friday.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

Take Care of Special Needs Students
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Aug 26, 2020 at 10:37 am
Take Care of Special Needs Students, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Aug 26, 2020 at 10:37 am
21 people like this

Teachers Unions needs to go. Special Education students should've started in person already (and I do not have a special needs student). The Palo Alto Teachers Union behavior is abhorrent. Still lobbying to keep special needs students at home. How do they live with themselves?


Kathy
Registered user
Palo Alto Orchards
on Aug 26, 2020 at 12:05 pm
Kathy, Palo Alto Orchards
Registered user
on Aug 26, 2020 at 12:05 pm
18 people like this

The California Teachers Association has 310,000 members in CA. Dues are approximately $1000/for the nine month school year. That's $310,000,000 that buys a lot of influence, from a school board member race all the way up to the Presidential campaign. (Gov. Newsom received $1.157 million from the CTA during his recent gubernatorial campaign - Web Link) The teacher's unions can then 'hire' their own bosses ('Special Interest,' by Prof. Terry Moe). The California Federation of Teachers claims 120,000 members on its website: Web Link .


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Aug 27, 2020 at 11:15 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Aug 27, 2020 at 11:15 pm
5 people like this

I am not sure how this is the fault of the teacher’s union. Special Ed teachers should be treated the same as Regular Ed teachers. The teacher’s union just seems to be saying that the same state watch list rules should apply for Special Ed students and teachers. They also seem to be advocating for a hybrid model instead of a full return. I don’t understand how this is an attempt by the teacher’s union to keep Special Ed students at home. I would blame the pandemic for this mess not the union. Teachers Unions are only advocating for the health and safety of their members. They weren’t responsible for the terrible spread of Coronavirus.

I think it would be wonderful if Special Education students can return as soon as possible as I agree that the services that get provided would be beneficial for them to receive.

In the photo in the article here from the summer program, it doesn’t look like much social distancing to me, and the student up front isn’t wearing a mask, but some Special Ed teachers and volunteers would likely be willing to take a risk to help people if a return is allowed. Hopefully, masks will be implemented and work by all in any potential return.

Also, I want to point out how all cohorts are false safety bubbles. Once students and staff leave and possibly interact with more people outside of school the cohort is essentially meaningless except for contact tracing purposes.

I think it would be wonderful if Special Education can make a safe return, I just worry about potential COVID infections based on other COVID outbreaks in school returns around the country. It just seems like any time the public mixes together there is an outbreak of infections. It’s just terrible.


Testing would help
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 28, 2020 at 9:58 am
Testing would help, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Aug 28, 2020 at 9:58 am
3 people like this

There are now several rapid tests available, such as the one from Abbott Labs, one from MIT, etc. that are inexpensive and fast enough (same day results) to do on a daily or at least very regular basis. This would allow the special ed students to return more safely. Regarding the student without the mask in the photo -some special needs students are truly unable to tolerate the masks and would just remove them.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Aug 28, 2020 at 10:10 am
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Aug 28, 2020 at 10:10 am
3 people like this

I am aware that could be the case, that some Special Ed students may not be able to tolerate masks. That does add an element of danger for both students and staff unfortunately. The rapid tests would be wonderful as I am in agreement that Special Education should return first if it is safe. I also meant to say masks “worn by all“ in my initial post.


Take Care of Special Needs Students
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Aug 28, 2020 at 3:57 pm
Take Care of Special Needs Students, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Aug 28, 2020 at 3:57 pm
1 person likes this

Lawsuit being heard by CA State Supreme Court requiring response from Newsom by today:

"Calilfornia Supreme Court Orders Governor Newsom to Justify School Closures".

Web Link

"The complaint on behalf of public schools and public school parents says that the closure order violates the rights of special needs students under the Individual Disabilities Education Act because they need in person learning to meet their needs. “Thus, in order to meet the mandatory requirements of IDEA, public school districts must conduct in person instruction which is specially designed to aid disabled students and meet their specialized education needs in a manner which is consistent with the student’s IEP.” "It says the order also violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires reasonable accommodations for anybody with disabilities, because it prevents them from going to schools and getting kind specialized instruction that can’t be achieved through online learning."
......
"Echoing the complaint brought by private schools and private school parents the public school complaint says the closure orders have no rational basis. “The Executive Orders and subsequent directives cannot survive a strict scrutiny challenge where, as here, it is not the least restrictive means of furthering the government’s goal of reducing the transmission of coronavirus as demonstrated through the conceded development of scientific data relating to the transmission in minors, as well as studies reporting a low risk to students and indicating that less than 2% of COVID-19 transmissions occur in individuals under the age of 20.”


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 2, 2020 at 5:57 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 2, 2020 at 5:57 pm
1 person likes this

Cubberley would be a perfect place to set up a location for disability students. Since the students need to social distance then we need more locations for schooling. Please make this happen so they do not have to travel over RR tracks and go a distance to get to school.


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