2020 will begin ALL VIRTUAL. In-person Learning Labs will be available for students Mon-Thurs.

Visit our Returning to Learning Hub  Return to District Homepage

Special Education

We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many uncertainties and challenges for parents and families of a student with a disability. The ever-evolving guidance, legislation and public health information/status necessitates that we remain fluid and flexible in our plans, continually evaluating and revising plans as needed to ensure that we are able to best meet each student's needs while we prioritize the health and safety of our school community.

Ferndale Special Education FAQs for Parents & Families

Updated Sep 1, 2020

What about students with IEPs?

We are ever vigilant and mindful of the unique needs of one of most vulnerable student groups and their families as we move forward, and are focused on educating our students in the most equitable and safest way possible.

As we near the beginning of the school year, many Ferndale special educators have returned to work early to begin the planning, review and parent contacts/ meetings necessary to determine the educational plan for each student, based on his/ her individual needs. They have already been in contact with many families and will continue this work on this through the first couple of weeks of school. When adjustments or revisions to your child's plan are needed, teachers/ staff will work with you to complete an IEP Amendment and/or Contingency Learning Plan. Please feel free to reach out to your child's teacher or the building principal if you have questions or concerns in the meantime. 

What are Contingency Learning Plans? 

Contingency Learning Plans (CLPs) will be included in IEP Amendments, when necessary, to reflect any any adjustments or changes needed to a student's plan in the context of the district's learning platform at the beginning of the year and moving forward. For example, the CLP would describe the programs and services that would be provided if the region/ state moved back to Phase 3 (if different). IEP Amendments and CLPs are developed with parent input and participation. 

How is the need for in-person special education instructional time or services determined? 

The need for in-person instruction/ services is determined by the IEPT, which includes parents/ guardians. IEP teams will consider several factors, including, but not limited to: nature/ severity of the disability, developmental level of the child, the child's learning style and type/ level of support needed, the student's progress on IEP goals prior to the closure, the student's engagement/ participation in remote learning in the spring/ identified barriers, progress monitoring data from the spring, and whether any additional supports/ strategies can be implemented to increase learning in a virtual or alternate learning format. 

Shouldn't the same in-person time be available for all students with an IEP? 

Not necessarily, the central tenet/ foundation of special education and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the individualization of supports and services, based on each child's unique needs and circumstances. Equity means that each student is provided with what he/she needs; some students may need additional and/or different types of services and supports based on individual needs. Simply providing a one-size-fits-all option for students would be a violation of special education legislation. 

What if the school team says that in-person time is needed, but my child and/or a family member have medical vulnerabilities that result in a higher risk level? 

Please make sure to share any medical information re: your child with their special education teacher/ provider and discuss concerns. Parents may still opt for all virtual/ remote learning based on these circumstances, and the school team will work with you to identify a plan to meet your child's needs in a way that is safe for all. 

What if I don't feel comfortable sending my child to school, but I work during the day and am not available to support my child with virtual learning? 

Again, please share any concerns that you have with your child's special education teacher/ IEP team. They will work with you to develop a plan that addresses your child's needs in consideration of your family circumstances. In some cases, the team may discuss a "remote learning" plan that your child and family can access at the times that work best for you, instead of the regular daily schedule. They may also identify other strategies/ supports to help this- video recording teaching sessions, setting up a visual work system or schedule for you to use at home, providing hands-on materials or manipulatives, and/or providing coaching sessions to model/ teach parents how to work with their child in a way that is achievable and builds on small successes. 

Will the district provide a paraprofessional to work w/ my child in my home if I am not available and/or need assistance with virtual/ remote learning? 

First, and importantly, please understand that any decisions re: supports and services for a student w/ a disability are made by the IEPT, in consideration of each child's unique needs (as required by the federal IDEA). 

That being said, our goal and commitment is to work together to identify solutions to meet student needs while prioritizing health and safety for the entire school community. There are several additional health and safety considerations for both the child/ family and provider that come into play with home-based services (including medical vulnerabilities on the part of the provider, child or family members, lack of a controlled environment in which disinfection/ fogging/ deep cleaning can occur on a set schedule, inability to maintain a team approach/ support for staff in the home environment). At this time, in alignment with public health recommendations and state guidance, any homebound or home-based services which are necessary will be provided virtually, to the greatest extent possible. As is true in every aspect of this situation, this will be re-assessed as circumstances change. 

What about in-person para support if the region/ state moves back to Phase 3? 

Per the Governor's Return to School Roadmap, schools are not able to provide any in-person services in Phase 3. 

What are the mask requirements for students? 

Masks are encouraged for pre-K students in common areas and halls only. Masks are required for elementary students in common areas/ hallways, and when not in a cohorted group. Masks are required for secondary students. We are making every effort to keep pre-K/ elementary students receiving IEP services in cohorted groups; please talk to your child's provider or the building principal if you have questions or need more information about specifics for your child's building or program. 

What are the mask and PPE requirements for staff? 

We recognize that some students with a disability may not be able to wear a mask and/or maintain social distancing at all times. Also, some of our staff support students in ways that require close contact, for example, physical prompting, medical procedures and/or assistance with toileting and other self-care needs. As a result, our PPE protocol/ requirements for SE staff are above and beyond what is required per the MI Return to School Roadmap. All special education staff will be required to wear a face covering during Phase 4 & 5, and staff who may come in close contact w/ students will wear an N-95 type mask and face shield, as well as gloves, and a gown. Teachers/ staff will have tables with a plexiglass divider to use when working with students in small groups and/or 1:1. 

What type of masks will the district provide? 

The district will provide a cloth and disposable masks, including clear masks, and face shields, for staff and students. N-95 type masks will be provided for those staff who need them. 

What if my child will not wear a mask? 

We understand that some of our students may have difficulty with the mask requirement. Please talk to your child's teacher if there is a medical or disability-related reason that your child is not able to tolerate/ wear a mask. Together, you may discuss positive behavior strategies/ supports to encourage mask-wearing, whether it is safe for your child to attend in-person without a mask, and/or alternatives to in-person learning. 

There are many things you can do at home to help support your child's readiness to wear a mask in school. It may be helpful to read social stories about mask-wearing with your child. 

Another tip is to start by having your child wear a mask for short periods of time, while doing a favorite activity, to build tolerance. There are many different types of masks made of varying materials. If your child has sensory sensitivities, it may be helpful to try several to see which your child prefers/ is able to tolerate. It may be helpful to show your child a video of other kids or favorite superheros or characters wearing masks or to purchase a mask with a superhero on it. Please don't hesitate to reach out to your special education caseload teacher if you need further help, ideas and/or resources! 

How will accommodations be met in general education classes? 

All staff will continue to follow and implement all IEP/504 plans whether we are remote or in-person. All plans will be reviewed with parents to determine if any adjustments need to be made based on the current phase of the Governor’s Roadmap to Schools and the district's instructional plan at the beginning of the year. 

My child and family participate in Early On/ Early Intervention services for 0-3 year olds. What will services look like in Phases 4 & 5? 

In alignment with MDE guidance, Early On/ Early Intervention services in Phase 4 will be provided virtually, to the greatest extent possible. Careful consideration of medical vulnerabilities of staff and children/ parents/ family members would be given before planning any in-person types of services or evaluations. If/when in-person services are necessary, and determined to be safe for all involved, those services would be provided at FECC, with strict health and safety protocols in place. When the region enters Phase 5, providers will have further discussion with each parent/ family regarding whether it would be appropriate to resume in-person or in-home services based on individual needs and circumstances. Please contact your Early On Service provider or coordinator (Sarah Culpepper, Kristy Hudson, Lisa Owens, and Torre Church) if you have further questions or would like more information about this. 

What role do Special Education PAC Reps have in the district?

Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) reps are district parents of students with an IEP who are appointed by the Ferndale Schools and Oakland Schools School Boards. They participate in monthly PAC meetings at Oakland Schools and play a key role in ensuring parent awareness about important topics/ issues in special education and district special education programs and services. PAC reps partner with the district to identify student, parent and family needs and to implement opportunities for parent connections, support and involvement.

Ms. Tocco and Ms. Rajt, Ferndale PAC Reps, welcome parents/ guardians to reach out to them at anytime with questions, input, ideas, and/ or simply to make a connection with another parent for a listening ear, understanding and/ or encouragement.

Ms.Trina Tocco- (269) 873-1000; trinatocco@gmail.com

Ms. Lisa Rajt- (734) 693-0670; lmrajt@gmail.com

How many days per week/ hours per day will special education students be attending school?

A parent letter and Special Education FAQ was sent out via Remind and posted on our district Return to Learning Hub webpage on Aug. 17. This information includes the daily/ weekly schedules for our in-person special education programs and further explains how in-person services are determined by IEP teams based on each student’s individual needs. We will continue to update this page with the most recent information pertaining to special education.

Who is responsible for the cleaning of special education equipment, specifically wheelchairs and walkers, etc.?

Transportation staff will disinfect student equipment such as wheelchairs or walkers upon arrival at school and before students board the bus after school. Special education program staff will follow district procedures for disinfecting any high-frequency touch surfaces/ items, including student personal equipment, at least every 4 hours.

Will special education students be required to wear a mask and if so are all of these and other safety expectations in writing somewhere?

Yes, there are mask requirements for all students, including students with an IEP, as outlined below by grade level:

Pre-K Mask Requirements

Masks are required in common areas such as hallways or shared bathrooms

Kindergarten – 5th grade Mask Requirements

Masks are required during Learning Labs and in common areas; students attending self-contained/ cohorted special education instruction classes will not be required to wear a mask in class

6th grade – 12th grade Mask Requirements

Masks are required at all times except when eating

Special Factors

We understand that some students may not be able to wear a mask due to a disability- related and/or medical reason. If this applies to your child, please make sure to discuss with his/her special education teacher/ IEP team. The IEP team, including parents, will develop a plan for your child based on individual needs/ circumstances. The discussion may include sharing information about the specific reason(s), positive behavior supports for home and school to encourage mask-wearing, whether it is safe for your child to attend school without a mask, and/ or consideration of alternate forms of learning, when appropriate. Medical documentation/ input may be required.

Further information regarding district mask requirements and other safety strategies can be reviewed on our Returning to Learning Hub Safety Page.

My child has an IEP and spends all day in general education. He/she needs to be around typically developing peers for socialization/ modeling. How will all this be accomplished during virtual learning? Small group social work with other children with disabilities does not work well for this.

We recognize that all students, to some extent, have been and will continue to be socially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting health-related restrictions. The social aspect is, understandably, one of the more challenging areas to address in a virtual environment. Please reach out to your child’s school social worker and/or IEP team to share your concerns and to work together to develop strategies to best address your child’s individual needs. Options such as a social skills or peer modeling group with other students in the same general education classroom and/or other types of virtual peer to peer modeling and/or support may be considered. When health risks/ restrictions ease and schools fully re-open for in-person instruction, we will prioritize social supports and opportunities for all students.

Will there be an option for families to borrow any of the equipment the school uses?  For example, a sensory chair or alternate seat options for my child who has ADHD? 

We are committed to supporting students and families with learning at home and will loan out or provide sensory tools/ supports that are needed.  Please contact your child’s Occupational Therapist, special education teacher and/or other special education provider to communicate any needs you may have. 

Will virtual speech and language services, school social work services, and occupational therapy services look similar to how those services were delivered in the spring? 

Our plan is to provide virtual therapeutic support services in a consistent, regularly scheduled manner via synchronous instruction (two-way live interaction using Zoom or Google Meet) to the greatest extent possible.  When appropriate based on your child and family’s needs, services may be also be provided in a consultative and/or asynchronous/ remote learning format. Service providers will communicate with you regarding a plan to best support your child’s needs and progress on related IEP goals/ objectives. 

Will it just be self-contained classroom students in the Upper Elementary ASD space or will the resource room students also be present?

The elementary and secondary self-contained programs will be in a cohorted group with their special education teacher and paraprofessionals in a separate classroom setting.  That means that those students would not have close contact with other groups of students while at school.  

How are we limiting contact and ensuring that kids are interacting with the fewest number of people while in the school for special education programs?

We have considered and adopted several strategies to minimize student contacts within the school environment, for example, cohorting special education student groups and classes to the extent possible, having students enter the building through a separate entrance or directly into their classrooms (where possible), and establishing a separate lunch area.  Please contact your child’s school principal and/or special education teacher if you’d like more information and/or have questions about the plan for your child’s program or building.

Could you describe in detail the flow of cleaning with the special education student groups?

Staff will be following all health/ safety and cleaning protocols as outlined in our district plan.

Classroom materials/ items will be designated for individual student use and not shared. For any items that may be accessible to other students, staff will follow a protocol to either immediately disinfect (when possible) and/or to remove any items that have been used so that they may be disinfected at the end of the school day.  In addition, the special education in-person instructional schedule allows a full day between class sessions for deep cleaning/ fogging/ sanitization by our maintenance staff. 

What options are there for virtual electives for special education students? Are there in-person electives for students coming to school for in-person instruction and/or Learning Labs?  

Ferndale Schools will offer all electives (e.g. art, music, gym, etc.) virtually and your child will have these classes/ opportunities built into his/ her weekly schedule. At this time, we will not be offering in-person electives, however, sensory/ motor breaks and outdoor movement/ recreational activities will be provided for students attending school in person, as appropriate based on individual needs and developmental level. 

I am wondering if small groups of students could meet together at school in person with masks on once a day or even a few times a week for social opportunities/ social modeling? 

This is not part of our plans at this time, although we are willing to discuss and consider options as permitted by health conditions/ recommendations as we move forward.  We may be able to partner with our PAC reps and/or building level PTAs to further discuss the need and structures to support.  Students will also have opportunities for socialization/ peer modeling within their classroom meetings and other synchronous learning opportunities.   

How will Learning Labs be staffed? Will there be specific special education Learning Labs? Will the Learning Labs be able to provide 504 and IEP accommodations? 

The intent of Learning Lab is to ensure that all students have access to virtual learning. This may include access to technology (internet connection, device), to a structured learning environment and/ or to adult support and monitoring.  Learning Labs will be primarily staffed with support/ non- certified staff, although some teachers and/or administrators may also be providing Learning Lab support at times. 504 or IEP accommodations and supports appropriate to the setting/ context will be provided by Learning Lab staff under direction/ monitoring by the student’s special education teacher.  This would include paraprofessional support to prompt/ reinforce the use of visuals and/or work systems, provide personal care and/or to assist with the implementation of positive behavior supports, as per the IEP.

In-person special education instructional services will be provided by our Ferndale Special Education teachers, according to the special education in-person schedule. During these times, teachers will provide specialized instruction and interventions based on your child’s IEP goals and objectives and will support student access to and progress within the general education K-12 curriculum provided via Canvas.

Is it only going to be special education students on the bus at one time (keeping in mind social distancing and the small number of kids)? 

If your child receives special transportation per his/ her IEP, we will continue to provide that. Social distancing on school busses is recommended but not required per the MI Roadmap for Phase 4 and will be implemented to the extent possible on special transportation routes.

All district busses/ routes will adhere to required health/ safety strategies such as disinfecting all interior surfaces before/ after each route, keeping bus windows open when possible, mask requirements for staff/ students and student use of hand sanitizer before boarding and exiting the bus. 

Will school of choice special education students be able to take the bus?

To clarify, bus transportation for school of choice students is not available as a general rule.  If the IEP team has determined that special transportation is necessary for the provision of a free & appropriate public education (FAPE) for your child, we would continue to provide that.  Also, when space permits, school of choice students may take the bus to/ from school using one of the in-district established bus stops.

Will there be the same number of paraprofessionals this year or will more be hired?

We have added paraprofessional staff members this school year and anticipate starting the school year with a full staff.  Students attending in-person special education and/or Learning Labs will be provided with paraprofessional support as indicated in their IEPs, and virtual paraprofessional support will also be provided as needed/ appropriate.

What is the schedule for revising IEPs?

It is important to note that per the Michigan Department of Education and legal guidance, IEPs will continue to be developed and written based on the district’s offer of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for normal, full in-person (brick and mortar) school.  If/ when the IEP can be fully implemented and is appropriate to meet the student’s needs in the district’s return to school instructional model as written, a new IEP would not be needed right away.  If changes to a student’s individual plan are necessary as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, those revisions can be made via an IEP Amendment and Contingency Learning Plan (SLP), with parent participation and input (and also with parent agreement that changes can be made via an Amendment versus a full IEP team meeting).  In those circumstances, special education teachers/ providers will be in contact with parents within the first two weeks of school (if that has not happened already).  Your child’s teacher/ provider will also be in communication with you regarding your child’s virtual special education programs and services within the first weeks of school. 

We greatly appreciate your understanding and patience as we start the school year.  This is truly an unprecedented situation and, unfortunately, support and guidance from the federal and state levels have been not been as timely as we had hoped.  For example, the Michigan Department of Education- Office of Special Education just released its guidance for IEPs and CLPs late last week, and teachers also officially returned to school last week with 3 full days of professional development. Special education teachers/ staff are working tirelessly to learn and operationalize new general and special education procedures, technology platforms and virtual curriculum, and also have a potentially high number of individual student plans to review and revise within a short period of time as we start the school year. 

Please be assured that despite the challenges presented, special education teachers/ teams will take the time to ensure meaningful discussions and planning with parents regarding any additional/ new student needs and/or changes to individual student plans. Our priority is not simply to complete everything as quickly as possible, but to be efficient as possible while also taking the time necessary to develop the best plan for each student in these circumstances. We regret that this may result in a short delay in some instances and appreciate your understanding.  In the interim, if you have an immediate question or concern, please reach out to your child’s teacher/ provider and/or the building principal and we will follow up with you promptly with further information and/ or the plan to address your question or concern. 

What is the expected date that speech and language services, physical therapy, occupational therapy services will begin?

The first two weeks of school will focus on fostering connections and community and assessing student needs.  Each school will offer events and opportunities to accomplish this; please refer to the welcome back letter you received from the building principal and you may also reference building- level information on the Ferndale Return to Learning Hub.

Ancillary/ support services such as Speech, OT, PT and SSW will likely also look a little different during the first two weeks of school as providers will be participating in classroom and school events, consulting and working with teachers, building teams and parents/ families regarding student needs, and developing service schedules to align with students’ virtual and/ or in-person learning schedules.  Our goal is for providers to communicate a tentative schedule for services by the end of the 2nd week of school.  Please understand that some adjustments to the schedule may be needed during the first month of school as providers implement their initial plans and ensure that the needs of each student are being met. 

If for some reason we haven't heard from special education staff by September 14th as to the schedule for services than should we contact staff and ask for the time slot?

Yes; if, for any reason, you have questions and/or are not sure about your child’s IEP service schedule, please reach out to your child’s service provider and/or the building principal and that information will be shared with you promptly.

Many of us received a notice via Remind regarding a trauma assessment.  Can you speak about that and what the information will be used for particularly in the context of special education students?

The governor’s MI Return to School Roadmap includes a mental health/ trauma/ social-emotional/ behavioral screening for all students as a strongly recommended component.  The sole purpose and use of the trauma screener sent out by Ferndale Schools is to ensure that we identify student needs as related to the COVID-19 pandemic and provide support where needed. Student responses/ data will not be utilized for other purposes such as special education identification or evaluation. 

My child needs a special education evaluation. How and when will this occur?

Our district special education staff have participated in professional development and are “re-tooling” to complete evaluations in the hybrid and/or virtual educational setting. This will include reviewing student evaluation plans to ensure that we are not engaging in any unnecessary testing and ensure that multiple types of assessments/ sources of evaluation data are included.  If/ when changes to the evaluation plan are necessary, a member of the team will contact you to discuss. 

Evaluation activities will be completed virtually/ remotely to the extent that meaningful data/ information can be obtained in that format. Virtual/ remote assessment components may include parent or student interviews, obtaining spontaneous language samples, observing and assessing social communication and/or problem-solving skills, completing social/ emotional- behavioral rating scales, administering curriculum-based measures, qualitative use of a standardized assessment (administering the assessment virtually and analyzing and interpreting assessment data without reporting scores) and/or virtual observations of the student in the area of academic difficulty and/or suspected disability. However, some evaluation components may still require an in-person administration, for example, cognitive testing to consider eligibility based on the rule for cognitive impairment. In those situations, the evaluator may work with your child during his/ her scheduled in-person special education and/or Learning Lab time, and/ or may contact you to schedule an appointment for in-person testing at one of the school buildings. 

If the evaluation requires in-person assessment but your child is not able participate in-person due to COVID/ health related concerns, the evaluator will discuss the situation with you to consider options and determine a plan of action moving forward. 

Any evaluations not completed last spring due to the need for in-person assessment will be initiated when school starts and an IEP meeting to determine special education eligibility will be held within the first 30 school days.