State Advisory Council for Exception Children Virtual Meeting, April 27, 2020

  • Associate Commissioner Gretta Hylton said KDE realizes it may not be possible to provide all of the services typically available to students with disabilities during non-traditional instruction.
  • Hylton said schools and districts should look for creative ways to provide services now and document the services they cannot furnish and be prepared to render compensatory services when it is once again possible to do so.

By Mike Marsee

The Kentucky Department of Education is assisting Kentucky schools and districts in making “a good faith effort” to serve exceptional children during the COVID-19 emergency.

Serving students who typically need individualized instruction has been particularly challenging for schools during the extended period of non-traditional instruction (NTI) necessitated by the suspension of in-person classes.

However, Gretta Hylton, the associate commissioner in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Early Learning (OSEEL), said it remains particularly important to do as much as possible for those students.

“Probably the phrase that I’ve used most is, ‘Something is better than nothing,’” Hylton said April 27 in a report to the State Advisory Council for Exceptional Children during its virtual meeting.

Hylton said her office has been asked repeatedly by schools and districts what to do if they are unable to provide services to students with special needs due to circumstances beyond their control. Her answer has always been the same: Do what you can now, and document what you can’t do so it can be done later.

“During this time, schools and districts are charged with providing an appropriate, comparable, alternate form of education,” she said. “We understand that there are going to be things that districts cannot do and that some services are not going to be provided, but that doesn’t mean that we give ourselves a pass.

“It means that when we come out of this and we get back to face-to-face instruction, we don’t shy away from compensatory services, we don’t shy away from having those conversations with families and parents to say, ‘These are the things that we didn’t provide.”

Hylton said her office knew that some students with disabilities could be among those who struggle most with NTI, and that not all services that are provided in schools can be replicated during this extended period of at-home learning.

“It’s about making a good faith effort. It’s about trying to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible, but not slighting students on anything that they’re entitled to,” she said.

Hylton said it is critical that schools and districts document both the services they have provided and those they could not provide to students with disabilities.

“Because that’s the key in determining what’s owed to students coming back,” she said.

She said it’s also important to communicate with the families of those students in an attempt to find alternate means of providing services when possible.

“Talk to parents, talk to families, see if there’s an alternate way of doing that,” Hylton said.

Hylton said those practices are in place at Kentucky School for the Blind and Kentucky School for the Deaf, schools operated by KDE that are utilizing NTI along with all other schools in the state’s 172 school districts.

“If anyone had asked me, did I believe that KSB and KSD would ever go to NTI, I would have said no. We prefer face to face, and that’s what we’re going to do. But I had no idea that we were going to be faced with a global pandemic,” she said. “We did, and we did the things that I advised all other districts to do.

“Our staff looked at individualized instruction as much as possible, knowing that there are some opportunity gaps out there. We know that some areas have more access to the internet, for example, and some do not. So we designed things knowing that there were some things out there that were beyond our control.”

David Cook, who coordinates KDE’s Non-Traditional Instruction Program, said KDE is identifying areas of opportunity and concern based on data it is gathering from districts in the program. He said Kentucky schools should be better prepared for a long-term closure as a result of the lessons learned during this closure period, and he said KDE has identified a need for a greater focus on professional learning and teacher preparation on the skills needed for remote learning.

Cook also said there have been concerns about services to students with disabilities and other special populations, as well about family members who must juggle several roles while working with students with special needs.

OSEEL consultant Joseph McCowan said KDE has partnered with the state’s nine special education cooperatives to provide support for schools and districts and call attention to the work they’re doing during this time.

McCowan said a weekly special education spotlight on the statewide listserv for teachers and directors of special education has focused on a program in a different region each week.

“Districts have really responded well to that and it’s been very popular,” he said. “Districts have started to send in all kinds of information about things they’re doing.”

Two cooperative directors called attention to a series of six webinars presented by the cooperatives that focus on topics designed to highlight effective practices during NTI for students with disabilities.

Two webinars remain on the schedule, both of which are from 11-11:30 a.m. ET):

  • May 1 – “Behavior and Social and Emotional Learning Supports”
  • May 8 – “Universal Design for Learning”

All webinars in the series and related resources can be accessed through the KDE website.