Specific student needs accommodated throughout at-home learning


Leia Gluckman staff writer
As the school adapts to a new normal, teachers and the administration are held responsible for sustaining accommodations for students with 504 plans and IEPs as well as gauging whether or not student needs are being met.
A 504 plan is an overview of any accomodations a student with a disability receives to support  academic success. 504 plans can be instituted for students with restrictions ranging from test-taking-related stress or a physical limitation. An Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, is a document filed with the school that outlines the specialized instruction and services required for a student with special needs. IEPs are typically more involved than 504 plans and require additional steps to be properly implemented. Whether learning takes place in a classroom or at home, the administration is taking steps to address each set of student needs.
“Both IEPs and 504s are legal documents,” Dr. Jill Hunt, Assistant Principal of Student Services, said. “Teachers are expected to follow accommodations just as they would in a classroom setting. Service minutes were adjusted to reflect the time in Home Learning.  If a student with an IEP received itinerant services, such as speech and/or counseling, those supports are still provided via Google meetings during Home Learning.” 
For any specific concerns with 504 plans, Hunt advises that students and parents speak directly with teachers before going to a counselor; administrators will get involved after those steps have been taken, if such need arises.
For concerns surrounding an IEP, similar steps can be taken. “Thus far, parents have overwhelmingly said that the IEP is appropriate,” Hunt said.
“Students need to remind the teacher that they would like to use the accommodation on exams, as teachers do not automatically assume every student wants to use the accommodation on each exam,” Hunt said. “Timely communication with teachers about needs is very important.”
An unnamed student’s 504 plan outlines double time on classwork, quizzes and tests, making the distinction between homework and classwork “very important” to their schedule and time management.
“The basic thing is that I don’t know what is considered classwork and what is considered homework anymore because we don’t really have class,” they said. 
Given this student’s “struggles” with time management, home learning has posed new challenges.
“Before home learning, [extra time] was there if I needed it,” they said. “I wasn’t rushed to get classwork done within the period. If I needed extra time and my teachers weren’t aware, I could make them aware easily.”
This student notes that assignments and due dates have become “fuzzy” because what would traditionally be categorized as classwork has now technically become homework.
If students are struggling with due dates or need clarification, “we, as teachers, are constantly if front of of our computers due to distance learning so [students] should get an answer pretty quickly,” Special Education department chair Gregg Riesenberg said. “[If students] are not sure what to do or when it is due [then they should] reach out to their teacher.”
On top of what is already a “strange” situation, the transition to Google Classroom has only made things  “more stressful,” the unnamed student said. 
“I don’t think it’s the administration’s fault,” they said. “I just think that it’s a really strange situation that none of us could have seen coming or prepared for this.”
Special Education department chair Gregg Riesenberg notes that IEP accommodations for test taking and other work will be granted depending on what a student’s IEP says.
“These are difficult times for all students,” Riesenberg said. “If we have a special education student who is having difficult times during distance learning we reach out to their teachers and get the entire team involved to try and help the student.”
Riesenberg acknowledges that these changing times do pose challenges. “It is hard to have answers to a moving target, but it seems the district is keeping everyone informed the best they can,” Riesenberg said. “Special education students know they have an entire team to support them through distance learning.”  
For all students, counselor Kathleen Blanco recommends that when coping with anxiety or stress students should reach out to the people around them. 
“How you feel safe is having communication and making sure that you feel connected, whatever that may mean to you,” Blanco said. “I believe that the well being of students is paramount and is [the administration’s] primary concern.” Once mental and emotional health are managed, “then we can expect success.”
With regards to AP testing, students with extended time, 504 plans and IEPs should have received an email from Michelle Redston to confirm any accommodations. Students must have applied for any special accommodations back in the fall in order to ensure that they would receive them during testing.
While the administration encourages students to communicate with their teachers directly to address any concerns, additional support for AP testing is available by contacting Redston by email at [email protected]