The COVID-19 school closures put the weaknesses in our special education system in stark relief. Overnight in March 2020, students with disabilities lost almost all the supports and services essential to their academic, physical, and emotional development.
Amid the turmoil last spring, CRPE, in partnership with the National Center on Special Education in Charter Schools, reached out to a group of charter schools that we knew from a prior study had strong programs for educating students with disabilities before COVID-19 to see how they were handling school closures.
This report includes in-depth case studies with five charter schools to understand how they responded to school closures and modified their approach to special education to meet the needs of students with disabilities in remote settings.
Based on what we learned, we offer recommendations for schools serving students with disabilities during the pandemic:
- Expand existing protocols for identifying students in need of support (like Response to Intervention) to make sure all students’ individual academic and mental health needs are met.
- Prioritize or increase general and special educator collaboration time to enable effective planning and problem-solving.
- Ensure leaders responsible for special education have a voice in schoolwide decision- making.
- Be intentional about nurturing and sustaining relationships. Build out or strengthen advisory programs, increase check-ins with students and parents, and streamline student communication between IEP team members with the student experience in mind.
- Prioritize communication with families—and tailor communication approaches to families’ needs and preferences.