Many parents found themselves lost last spring when schools went fully remote, leaving them scrambling to help children with their virtual classes… often while working full-time themselves.
Parents reported being overwhelmed by April — only a month after the transition — with having their children home all day, trying to navigate complex assignments without teaching experience or resources, and the emotional stress on kids who are suddenly without their consistent schedule.
And then there’s the toll on children, with the sudden move to remote learning disrupting the school year, their routines, and connections with students and teachers.
The most vulnerable groups of students, however, were hit the hardest. We wrote about how youth in foster care have been deeply impacted; students in special education classes or with IEPs often find themselves lost without the extra, in-person care IEPs and classes provide.
That’s why many schools are prioritizing sending children with IEPs back, even before the school is open to the general education population.
While the ‘new normal’ of social distancing, masks, hand sanitizer, temperature checks, and more, is challenging for any student, youth with special needs may have a harder time with the change.
Wearing masks is one area that can be a challenge. Students may have trouble adapting to wearing masks and maintaining a six-foot distance from others. Some students may not understand the need for masks or refuse to wear them. In addition, some may have trouble with the fact that masks obscure staff’s facial expressions. And, some students may be unable to wear them due to health concerns.
Another is compliance with social distancing. Some students may not have the awareness of their environment or understand why social distancing is necessary.
Here are some ways that you can help students with special needs navigate the new normal in school transportation:
1. Speak with parents and IEP team about student’s grasp of social distancing regulations.
Work with the parents and IEP team to see where each student is with wearing masks (or if health problems preclude them from doing so) staying six feet away from others, how they respond to people in masks, and how they might react to any other regulations you’re planning to put into place.
2. Share individual student notes.
This will be great information to share with your bus driver or anyone who’s involved with the student’s transportation. If using HopSkipDrive or another alternative transportation solution, include in Rider notes. This way everyone can be on the same page. If health problems keep a student from wearing a mask, for instance, a CareDriver will know and can make the decision whether to keep that ride.
3. Get everyone on the same page.
Tell parents and IEP team what regulations you are putting into place, and how you plan to institute them. For instance, will you be taping off bus seats children can’t use? Doing a mask and temperature before the student gets on the vehicle? Perhaps the IEP team or family can begin practicing the student’s new routine with them. You can send families resources like this one.
4. Build a consistent routine.
Routine is incredibly important to children, especially those with special needs. Ensure the entire process — from waiting for the ride to getting to school — is the same every day so that expectations are set and students don’t feel like even more things are changing.
5. Build empathetic relationships.
Now more than ever, building relationships and connecting with students with special needs is crucial. A lot has changed and school closures kept them away from critical in-person services. The ride to school is the true start of the school day, so work on starting it out with empathy, connection and patience with riders.
Also provide training for your drivers on meeting the needs of students with special needs, including emotional ones. At HopSkipDrive, all CareDrivers are required to have caregiving experience and are offered resources on connecting and understanding students with special needs or disabilities. (Check out our ebook on the topic.)
6. Wearing masks
The CDC has a great guide to helping children understand and wear masks, as well as considerations for when a cloth mask isn’t viable (e.g. if the student has health issues). You may also consider if your staff needs clear masks; for instance if they are working with students who read lips.