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A great irony people are discovering as schools are shuttered and staff are working from home is that there is an unbelievable amount of things for administrators and teachers to wrangle with right now.  Spring break hasn’t been extended, folks.  People are working, and they are working hard.

Especially Andrea Ogonosky, who I had the pleasure of chatting with on Monday.  Despite the obvious madness and her crushing schedule as she frantically works to support districts across the state, she is pert and smiling, gracious and composed.

I asked her for tips that we could share with parents and teachers as they grapple with closed campuses and the challenges of online learning.

The most important thing, Dr. Ogonosky says, is to talk to kids about COVID-19.  And she stresses that we need to be calm and reassuring.  Parents—please emphasize that everything is fine and will continue to be fine.  Teachers—please do this, too! Remind your students that you are okay and will continue to be okay; show them that that their classmates are okay; be explicit that everyone is healthy and safe; and assure them that everyone will still be learning together as your classroom moves online.

Dr. Ogonosky also highlights the need to let kids talk about COVID-19 and listen to what they have to say.  This is especially important in the learning environment as classes come together in virtual spaces.  Teachers can allow time for a Q & A with their students, and they can play games to encourage students to speak up, share their feelings, and listen to each other.

Her second piece of advice is something everyone should be mindful of: monitor the television and social media consumption.  Kids shouldn’t have open access to tv or the internet right now for a number of obvious reasons, not the least of which is that there is just too much confusion between fact and fiction surrounding this pandemic.  Parents—monitor what they look at and turn it off as much as you can!  We may be isolated from each other and removed from normal activities, but there are still lots of things to do.  Go outside!  Walk to the park, play in the backyard, dig out your old board games, card games, and puzzles.  Engage in good old-fashioned play!  Even on the best of days, tv and the internet can be a real drag on our kids’ brains.  With the amount of dangerous and unsettling information floating out there right now, we need to be vigilant in protecting our kids from it.

Additionally, normal routines right now are essential.  Teachers—as you create online learning experiences, try to establish routines that the kids can settle into comfortably just like you do in the classroom.  Parents—spring break is over!  Reinstate the mundane daily rituals that keep your family’s homelife orderly and predictable: regular mealtimes and bedtimes, daily chores, daily lesson times, etc.  Your child’s daily life should be as normal as possible.   If you’re the parent of a special needs child, you may be really feeling the impacts of school closures.  Routine is especially important for these families.

And part of a regular routine includes access to a child’s supports and accommodations.  Dr. Ogonosky urges parents to reach out to their school support personnel if they haven’t been in contact already.  Schools are still required to provide the services and supports listed on an IEP to the best of their ability.  Clearly, some things just won’t be possible right now, and some supports might look very different when provided at home instead of in the classroom, but some things certainly can be done.  FAPE is still in place, after all.  In fact, TEA announced on March 13th that “school[s] must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. The LEA must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP.”  And ARD meetings will still be conducted via teleconferencing with informed consent.  The world is still turning, folks.  So don’t be shy about making sure your kid’s needs are met to the fullest extent possible.  (Please click here to see the release from TEA about COVID-19 and Special Education in Texas.)

Finally, the last take-away from Dr. Ogonosky pertains to RTI, of course.  She stresses that now is not the time to go into overdrive with interventions or the acquisition of new skills!  Now is the time for kids to be practicing their foundational skills to prevent autoregression.  Interventionists should be contacting parents and providing direction about which skills their child should be practicing and how they can best do so.  Interventionists can video chat with students and their families every week, checking in and giving direction and resources.  District websites will have a plethora of these resources, but personnel can direct parents and kids on how to easily access those resources and which ones are appropriate at this time.  The goal for now should be solidifying basic skill sets in a student’s educational foundation…this means practice!  Practice, practice, practice!  We should not be overly stressed about keeping up with the pace of TEKS at a time like this.  (Just don’t tell TEA I said that.)

Most importantly, Dr. Ogonosky is applauding school districts, saying that they are doing a remarkable job supporting both parents and staff, providing guidance and resources on websites and communicating with families and communities.  Like her, they are doing the hard work of circling the wagons at a critical time to ensure that kids continue to get the best education possible despite this pandemic.

ED311 will be bringing our audience further tips and resources for families and educators, including more advice from Dr. Ogonosky about Social-Emotional Learning during this unprecedented time in education.  Stay tuned and stay safe!

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