Board of Education Recap: Update on Special Education During the Pandemic

The Board of Education for Lowell Area Schools met for an hour on Monday for their regular, February meeting. Given COVID-19 restrictions on indoor gatherings, the meeting was held via the GoToMeeting videoconferencing platform. All members were present.

Educators Update Board on Special Education Programs

The longest segment of the meeting involved updates from a trio of educators who provide special education services at Murray Lake Elementary School, Lowell Middle School and Lowell High School.

Heather Sneider, director of the special education department for LAS, started off by providing a broad overview of how special education services have continued since the start of the pandemic. “[Teachers] adapted and made changes throughout the year,” she explained.

At the start of the pandemic last March, staff worked to revise individualized education programs (IEPs) and other documents needed to facilitate services during remote learning. This past fall, when hybrid and fully remote schedules were implemented, students demonstrating the most need were identified and brought into buildings for in-person instruction and assistance.

Special Education at Murray Lake Elementary School

At Murray Lake Elementary, Brooke Culver has students ranging from kindergarten to 5th grade. She explained that most special education teachers have been teaching both online and in-person this year. “It’s been challenging but doable,” she said.

Overall, Culver has found both parents and general education teachers to be great and flexible partners in meeting the needs of students. The use of technology has been a mixed bag though. While Google Classroom has made it easier to get information and documents to parents quickly, she said it is difficult to be personal and personable when talking to parents in IEP meetings that are held virtually.

Special Education at Lowell Middle School

At Lowell Middle School, teacher Stacy Verburg said the district was in the process of launching a new model of providing special education services for this year, and unfortunately, that model wasn’t designed with hybrid education in mind. However, a number of students were allowed in the building during what would normally be virtual days, and Verburg said that seemed to help with grades.

Special education teachers at the middle school also set up standing appointments during which a staff member would always be available on Google Meet to talk to students. “You really saw the students get on just to connect with someone,” Verburg said. That was particularly the case for students who were at home alone while their parents were working.

Verburg also noted that about a dozen special education students at the middle school signed up for the district’s virtual academy at the start of the year. Students in the virtual academy are learning remotely through Odysseyware software. As the year has progressed, the number of remote learners has dropped to seven now.

Special Education at Lowell High School

Olivia Johnson teaches a self-contained classroom dedicated to special education students at Lowell High School. Rather than switch to online learning, these students were allowed to continue to come into the high school four days a week during the last state school shutdown. However, without their peers in the building, Johnson said changes needed to be made.

For instance, the students normally learn vocational skills by manning a store and selling items to their classmates. During the shutdown, Johnson said her class shifted to activities such as delivering popcorn to staff and learning how to navigate the building. A physical education teacher also came in once a week to lead activities in the gym, and Johnson said her class often utilized the gym space at other times as well.

Overall, Johnson reportedly positively about how her students weathered the shutdown and noted that behavior problems even seemed to decrease during that time.

Other Agenda Items from the Meeting

Other items from Monday’s meeting included the following:

  • An update from student representative Skylie Raab. She noted that students were very glad to be back in the classroom and shared that the girls lacrosse team had been working with FROM to create a teen clothing room in their thrift store.
  • A curriculum update from Superintendent Nate Fowler. He shared that students have made progress in reading, but there are bigger gaps in math. There has been an increase in failure rates, and the district is communicating to staff that covering all the curriculum content this year is not as important as ensuring students understand the content that is being presented.
  • Passage of a resolution pertaining to in-person board meetings. While the language of the resolution was not shared during the meeting, conversation surrounding the agenda item suggests it was a resolution to encourage the state to allow in-person meetings to resume.

The next regular meeting of the Board of Education will take place at 7pm on Monday, March 8.

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