The below article was taken from the Exceptional Children's Assistance Center (ECAC) Back-to-School Newsletter. If you would like to read the entire newsletter, you may download it below.
It has been so long since things were “normal” that many parents are not sure what to expect in the 2021-2022 school year. Below are some familiar back-to-school tips, and a few based on the unusual times that we are currently living in.
We have learned that situations can change, sometimes very quickly. New COVID 19 variants have reminded us that the pandemic is not over. School systems are struggling with whether to require students and staff to wear masks. Some have already changed course after experiencing COVID outbreaks that led to dozens of students being quarantined. Start having your child wear a mask when you are away from home so that they can get used to it, even if your school currently makes masks optional. With so many children too young to be vaccinated, routinely wearing masks in the community makes sense, and keeps the issue from being only connected to attending school.
Regardless of what your school district or charter school is doing now, you should prepare for the possibility that your student may return to remote learning off and on during this school year. If necessary, look into possible childcare options. Also, talk to your child about this possibility, so that they will not be totally shocked if there is a change in their daily routine.
If you do not have reliable internet access or a computer that your child can use for remote learning, ask your school now about plans to provide hot spots and laptops for students who cannot come to school because of possible exposure to COVID. The plan should involve providing necessary equipment immediately so that students do not lose valuable instruction time.
Every child’s situation is unique. Here are some ideas that could help make the back-to-school transition a little easier.
Get informed: Try to find out what might be different for the coming year (e.g. new rules, distancing requirements, class size, number of teachers/aides, daily schedule, curriculum, meal times, etc.). Each of these factors could require some changes in how your child’s needs are met.
Review your child’s IEP, Section 504 Plan and/or Behavior Intervention Plan: This is especially important if your child learned virtually during all of the last school year and will now be in person. If you think that changes may be needed in the accommodations, supports, services and/or goals, consider requesting an IEP or 504 meeting to discuss this before school starts, or as soon as possible afterward. Double-check with your child’s teacher to make sure critical accommodations and supports will be in place on the first day of school.
Update Health Care and Emergency Plans: Contact the school nurse well before the first day of school with any changes to your child’s Individual Health Care or Emergency Plans. Make sure all required documentation from healthcare providers is up to date.
Check the course schedule of middle or high school students: Make sure that they are placed in the right courses at the appropriate level of difficulty (e.g. Regular, Advanced or Honors). There may also be other options and factors to consider so that your child gets a course schedule that will work for him/her/them. Ask for any needed changes right away! It is important to check course schedules each semester.
Check and connect with transportation: If your child has special transportation needs, make sure services and/or accommodations will begin on the first day of school. Ask if there will be anything different this year, such as wearing masks on the school bus. Check the route, estimated trip times, and, if applicable, get driver contact information. (Have your own back-up plan for the first few days of school, just in case…)
Connect with your child’s teacher and school therapists: As soon as you know who will be working with your child, contact the teacher(s) and therapists to develop an effective plan for home-school communication. Find out the best way to contact them and let them know how to contact you. (Note: A school Open House event is not a good time to have important discussions with teachers!)
Schedule a visit to the school: For children who will be attending a new school, and many others, it can be very helpful to have an opportunity to walk through the school, see their classroom(s) and meet their teacher(s) sometime before school starts. A school visit will also give you a chance to see the school’s layout and make sure that the classrooms are set up in a way that will work for your child (i.e., think about accessibility, sensory issues, seating arrangements, distractions, etc.).
Communicate with your child: Address any questions or concerns they might have. If transitions are particularly challenging for your child, consider making a social story to introduce new routines and people. Do your best to help them feel safe
Share important information about your child: Use a document such as ECAC’s Painting the Big Picture or Student Snapshot to share important information about your child with the staff who will be working with them this year.
At home, you can help your child ease into the school year routine by gradually adjusting their daily schedule and bedtime. Most importantly, stay positive and help your child feel good about the upcoming school year! We have all learned a lot over the last year and a half. We are better prepared than ever to deal with whatever comes our way.
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