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Summary of COVID - 19 Status

Folks,
I’m reminded of George Carlin talking about the concept of Vu-ja`de` which is the opposite of De`ja`-vu. It means NOTHING like this has ever happened to me before.

The recent turn of events in which we find ourselves is both unprecedented and downright uncomfortable. We want definite answers to questions that are basically centered upon how do we go about doing our jobs in the manner to which we are accustomed. That’s just not possible right now. And there’s no telling for how much longer this situation is going to last. We look to trusted sources like ODE, OSPA, NASP and others to give us both guidance and comfort. But they are mostly in the same boat we are. So I thought I’d share some thoughts:

Deadlines – The US Dept. of Ed. does not look to be addressing the 60-day timeline associated with completing initial evals. They have no history of ever doing this before so why do it now? Not all states have closed schools at this point, though the vast majority have. To my thinking, instead of crafting some ‘boilerplate’ and absolutely killer verbiage to explain an extension of parental consent, just sign a new PR05 once we get schools back in session. Keep PR01’s simple and succinct to explain what we’re doing and why, but don’t think of 20 different ways to say the same thing trying to anticipate unintended misunderstandings.

Confidentiality – Many of us are becoming more familiar with Google, Zoom, Skype, Class Do Jo, and other real time communications with video. We still have to respect FERPA and sometimes even HIPAA if information needing to be shared involves physical or mental health information or ‘remote treatment’. I hear there is a HIPAA compliant version of ZOOM, but it is expensive. And probably only affects us if we are providing counseling services through such technology. But many of us are using Social Media to contact and communicate with parents which should bring with its use a whole TON of attention being paid to confidentiality.

OSPA/NASP – Do keep checking websites, listservs, and emails from our professional organizations. They are the most current and trusted voices we need to hear right now. They are working for us and have resources that we have collectively given them for just such occasions similar to which we currently find ourselves. Both OSPA and NASP are making TONS of information available without requiring membership to access and use. And they are also doubling down on membership benefits with many discounted offerings like How School Psychologists Can Use Telehealth Or Remote Service Delivery (NASP), or reduced Spring Conference registration for the first ever Video Conference (OSPA).

Advocacy – In today’s (March 25, 2020) Columbus Dispatch is an article titled, “Coronavirus: Many Ohio Schools Have Gaps In Contingency Plans.” It can be found here: https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200325/coronavirus-many-ohio-schools-have-gaps-in-contingency-plans In it, the writers note that many schools were caught unprepared for a more lengthy school closure. Most had some form of multiple snow day plans, but for something of the current duration, many are scrambling on the fly, so to speak, in coming up with a continuation of education in the face of school closings and social distancing recommendations. The article goes on to highlight the particular needs of providing instruction to our special education students, many of whom do not have the same resources nor access to technology which many general education folks are using right now. The expectations of providing FAPE are never voided or relaxed. There was a movement to allow the US Department of Education to waive many regulations in the face of this health threat, but many advocacy groups voiced their opposition (including NASP). Largely in part because of the distrust with the current head and leadership of the department, and also in recognition that years of gains could most easily be wiped out by the stroke of a pen. What we do in haste can become very hard to undo later. The general rule of ‘What we do for one, we do for all” still applies to our special needs students. And we know, we have to go a bit further in providing FAPE. From the article referenced above is the following:

On the question of how to educate students with disabilities, for example, the state Education Department said districts need to figure it out:
“If instruction is offered to all students, including alternate delivery models like online learning or distance learning, then districts are required to provide students with disabilities special education services. If, however, a student with a disability cannot access the alternate delivery models being offered to general education students, then the district should consult with parents and/or caregivers to determine the needs of the student and identify the most appropriate means for meeting those needs during the closure period.”

Self-care Importance – For all of us, the usual resources and practices we have to keep ourselves effective and in tip-top shape are mostly out the window right now. ‘Overindulgence’ is trending as my new middle name. As we’ve seen in memes, weight gain and a possible drinking problem may be some definite side-effects in getting through these more difficult times. Truly we are all in this together and we should be exerting just as much effort and ingenuity investing in our own self-care as we are spending on meeting regulations and service provision. So please think of ways to connect with colleagues to hold techno-social ‘gatherings’ along with video chats to keep the ‘esprit de corps’ alive and well among us. We will get through this with additional skills and experiences that will be both useful and beneficial.

Words to Live By – Remember the term ‘Good Faith Effort’. We see it a lot in ODE Guidance and even federal communications. No one is going to critique or evaluate our practices during this mandatory shut-down. Once we do get back to a more normal semblance of how we do school, there will be plenty of hind-sight experts to weigh in with their opinions which may turn into corrective action plans. However, when we can show good faith effort in meeting the requirements under which we operate, it kind of becomes a get-out-of-jail-free card. Mistakes will be made, to be sure. But they should always be honest mistakes made due to unforeseen and uncontrollable situations.

In a recent NASP Central Region conference call, most every state was facing the same issues and asking the same questions as we are. Face-to-face conferences and meetings are being cancelled and video communications are being employed in new and novel ways. The majority of states are under a limited mandatory school closure right now with their state’s governor reviewing the continuance of closings in early to mid-April, as we are here in Ohio. We’re all in this together. And nobody knows the job we do, and the services we provide, more than our colleagues, including students and university trainers who have additional questions and concerns. So let’s just make sure we’re all rowing in the same direction and treating each other with kindness, K?

Chuck Archer,
Research Psychologist
Zanesville City Schools

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