School Guidance for Parents of Children with Special NeedsPosted: September 16, 2020
One of the biggest challenges that parents are facing during the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic is the return to school, whether virtual, in-person or some combination of the two.
For parents of children with special needs, those challenges may be magnified. No two students or situations are the same, and we know parents are the experts on their children.
School is fundamental in a child’s development, and at Le Bonheur, we strive to support both parents and educators as we navigate these uncertain times. Partnership between parents, schools and health care providers is paramount to success this year.
Le Bonheur Developmental Pediatrician Toni Whitaker, MD, along with members of the hospital’s Back to School Task Force answer a number of questions frequently asked by parents of children with special needs.
General tips to help parents navigate the new school year
- Organize the information you have in order to help your school and teacher understand your child’s needs. This could include pertinent health records, your child’s individualized education program plan (IEP) or 504 plans, any upcoming school meetings or events, and any notes from previous meetings.
- Contact your school to start planning as soon as possible if you have concerns about learning but your child doesn't yet have an educational plan.
- Review your school's plans for the year, and make sure you understand what any new safety measures or educational plans will mean for your child.
- Communicate with your school often. The better informed the school’s staff, the better they will be able to meet your child’s needs.
- Establish routines at home and stick to them. We know that structure provides a sense of safety and security for children.
- Listen to your child. Children will need more support this school year as we continue to adapt to new routines.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q: What do I do if my child is struggling in school?
- Frequent communication with your child’s teacher is essential. Let your teacher know that your child is struggling as soon as you recognize a problem.
- If issues persist, whether your child is learning virtually or in-person, schedule a parent‐teacher conference to discuss options. Your student may be able to get extra help. You can also contact your public school district or the school’s counseling office for help. The numbers to reach these offices should be on the school’s website.
- If you live in Shelby County, please see the information posted on “Exceptional Children and Health Services” for more detailed information: http://www.scsk12.org/ and http://www.scsk12.org/safeplan/files/2020/SPED-FAQs.pdf?PID=1764
- The Tennessee Department of Education also has additional information available on its website: https://www.tn.gov/education/.
Q: What if my 3‐ to 5‐year‐old child needs pre‐school for developmental delays?
- Contact your local public school to schedule an appointment for screening or evaluation to see if your child can enter preschool with help for special needs.
- If you live in Shelby County, contact Colonial Hearing, Speech and Vision Center at (901) 416‐8940 or (901) 416‐5206 to complete an intake for preschool.
Q: I don't think my child will learn well virtually. Do I need to enroll him/her in school?
- Yes, definitely register your child for school! Do this as soon as possible! Your school should be ready to work with you to be sure your student gets the educational services that serves him or her best whether all virtual or a hybrid model (some virtual and some in-person, depending on the school). This is a challenging time with some new methods for learning, but it all starts with school and parents working together to find good solutions.
Q: How do I work with the school on my child's existing Individual Education Program Plan (IEP)?
- Contact your school as soon as possible if you haven't already done so to review and update your child's IEP (or Section 504 Plan or other plan for special needs). Schools will still be providing services to your child, but some modifications may be necessary to keep everyone safe.
- An IEP is meant to be tailored for an individual student to meet is or her needs. You should discuss with the IEP team to discuss if there are any changes in services due to the pandemic.
- This year, it is more important than ever to communicate regularly and openly about your child’s educational needs. Talk to your child's teacher first and ask for more help if needed.
Q: What if my child has other special services such as Behavioral Support, Day Treatment, Homebound instruction, or supports for hearing or vision limitations?
- Talk with your school about your options and how services will be continued to meet the special needs of your child.
Q: My child has an Individual Health Plan (IHP) for a medical condition. What do I need to do?
- Be sure the school nurse and other staff are aware of your child's medical needs and whether there may be additional needs associated with the pandemic. Review the plans with the school as often as you need to be sure any changes in health are addressed.
- If your child has significant health problems, it is important to involve your child's primary health and any specialty providers in creating the school health plan.