How special education is changing this upcoming school year

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This article and video originally appeared on July 30, 2020 by Lydia Camarillo.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Figuring out what’s best for your student is a tough task many families are facing right now.

“I think about the two s’s. We want to keep everyone safe and sane and then we want to try to incorporate the education,” said Dr. Sabrina Salmon, director of exceptional education for the Tucson Unified School District.

How education will work is a big issue many parents and teachers are anxious to learn more about, especially families who depend on special education programs.

“One of the challenges is individualizing an online platform because each student is unique. Each student learns differently and each student needs different types of accommodation and modifications.”

Dr. Salmon says that’s one of the biggest challenges facing special education teachers right now. For parents of students with disabilities, the plan is to have services, like therapy, online.

“Speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling, sign language interpreting, all those services will be delivered remotely whether the student is on-site or at home.”

TUSD is offering an in-person teaching option to students that have more significant disabilities and qualify for self-contained program placement.

“So, we will have that exceptional education teacher who is there. We will have professionals that are there and then we’re going to have a more traditional learning environment set up with traditional classrooms,” said Dr. Salmon.

However, a traditional classroom will still look different with six feet apart guidelines in place. Plenty of cleaning supplies, gloves, and masks will also be available. For students who can’t wear a mask because of medical issues, face shields will be provided.“ Our nurses have been calling and they’ve been finding out from the parent if the student is able to wear a mask or any kind of face covering and if so if there is a certain type or certain material,” Dr. Salmon said.

With all the changes that lie ahead, schools can’t forget to prepare for the possible mental toll the pandemic can take. “We also have our lead counselor, our lead social worker, and our lead psychologist working very specifically with the trauma and some of the disadvantages that students with disabilities may have encountered.” Dr. Salmon notes TUSD’s social workers also check in with families often and counselors are taking part in special training.

“We’re going to provide specific training for our counselors so they have some kind of conversation starters and some ideas and activities so they can start to open up the dialogue with their students if there is something that they want to share.”

TUSD’s first day is August 10 with students starting off online. Again, exceptions are being made for families with students in self-contained special education.