eLearning days for inclement weather: How to plan for students with disabilities

Schools across the country are replacing traditional inclement weather days with “eLearning days,” where students use technology to complete assignments from home. The thinking: If students can’t get to school because of inclement weather, why not bring the learning to them?

In advance, districts need to consider how students with disabilities will participate and whether they will need additional tools or accommodations reflected in their IEPs, said Traci Tetrick, a complaint investigator and virtual learning specialist for the Indiana Department of Education’s Office of Special Education.

Tetrick helped update Indiana’s guidance on eLearning and students with disabilities.

Before implementing eLearning days, take these steps:

Inform IEP teams. As soon as schools decide to use virtual learning days, they need to make IEP teams aware so those teams can start having conversations about what an eLearning day will mean for individual students, Tetrick said. In Indiana, a statewide electronic IEP system will soon include a “virtual consideration piece” that prompts teams to consider factors related to virtual learning, she said. Consider adding a similar flag to your system.

Consider access to technology and curriculum. As a team, discuss how the student will be able to access the technology and the curriculum during an eLearning day. Start by looking at assistance the student needs while using technology at school. Does the student require assistive devices to physically access his laptop? Does he need one-to-one support to log into an online platform? Knowing this may help the team understand what the student will need to access the technology and the curriculum at home.

Document if the team determines virtual learning days are not appropriate. With proper planning, most students with disabilities will be able to participate in eLearning days; however, it may not be appropriate for some students, Tetrick said. “That’s OK,” she said. “The committee needs to reflect that in the IEP and explain how they’ll deliver compensatory services or what they’ll do to remain compliant in those cases.”

Discuss plans for related services that fall on eLearning days. As a team, discuss what will happen if an eLearning day falls on a day when the student would receive related services. “Districts have a lot of flexibility in how they provide services,” Tetrick said. The team could decide to make up the missed time when school resumes or use video conferencing if both the teacher and student have home access.

Review the accessibility of online content. Consider basic accessibility, such as closed captioning on videos and alt-text on images, said James Basham, an associate professor of special education at the University of Kansas and cofounder of the UDL-IRN. “Remember that accessibility goes beyond just the sensory needs of the student; it’s also, ‘Is the content accessible and how is it being provided?'” Basham said.
For instance, if the eLearning day requires a heavy amount of reading, consider how that will affect a student who has difficulty in reading, he said. Train educators on how to design eLearning lessons that are universal design for learning-aligned, he said.

Create social stories and conduct dry runs to prepare students. A dry run can help students understand what to expect and help educators spot issues ahead of time. Indiana’s guidance offers additional suggestions for preparing for eLearning days, including:

  • Create social stories to help familiarize the student with what to expect.
  • Use technology that’s familiar to students.
  • Save lessons in multiple file formats.
  • Communicate with parents early in the planning process.

Gather feedback from parents. Indiana’s eLearning guidance also includes a parent report template with questions such as:

  • What was their child’s favorite activity?
  • What was the parent’s favorite activity?
  • What did their child do well, and what did they struggle with?
  • What did their child not like?

“Parents have to be partners in this process,” Basham said. “Also, realize that for some parents, regardless of what the weather is, they’ll have to go to work. You need to consider what impact this will have on those families, too, whether that’s for inclement weather or a longer-term placement.”

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504 and education technology as it relates to special education for LRP Publications.

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