At the December Affinity Group “Evolving Roles and Experiences in Virtual Classroom: Implications for Teacher Preparation”, we explored how higher education faculty members learn about and teach their students about technologies in education. Beyond that, the focus became the effectiveness of instruction, Individual Education Plan (IEP) compliance, and providing Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) during COVID-19 school closures. Colleagues from the University of Mary Washington, Virginia, Dr. Kevin Good, Dr. Melissa Jenkins, and Dr. Jennifer Walker were present to share background on the subject and discuss their current research in the area.
FAPE, Legislation, and Due Process: Too Many Things on One Plate?
When schools closed for COVID-19 in 2020, there was a lot of concern over how teachers would reach all students: both in the physical sense of determining wifi capabilities and device availability and in the curriculum sense of ensuring teachers continue to provide high-quality, differentiated instruction to meet all their learners. What there was no concern over, however, was that the protections afforded to families of students with disabilities through access to FAPE would remain. It became very apparent through legislation early in the pandemic that FAPE would remain intact. Teachers, service providers, and schools were, however, granted some flexibility with what the offer of FAPE looked like in online settings.
What Wasn’t Happening
Their research “COVID-19 Practices in Special Education: Stakeholder Perceptions and Implications for Teacher Preparation” found that during the pandemic, all the specialized things that make special education “special” were not happening. All the aspects that separate special education from general education were not being provided. A survey of schools found that things like providing accommodations, modification, related services, and specially designed instruction were not occurring in the way that the professionals would have liked. Thus, there seemed to be a huge struggle with the idea of the “individual” in this model, as the “I” in “Individual Education Plan” requires. And, ultimately, the offer of FAPE was not being met. What was happening was a mix-match of services where teachers and service providers were trying to align individual needs with virtual experiences.
Who Had the Concerns?
It wasn’t just a problem for students and parents. Teachers and service providers were equally concerned about the degree of services they were able to provide for their students, according to the research conducted by our colleagues at Mary Washington. Special education teachers did not feel that they were prepared to provide FAPE in the online setting.
Continuing the Conversation
What feedback did you get from pre-service and in-service teachers regarding their preparedness for implementing the offer of FAPE in the online environment? What tools or resources are you using to support them? What tools and resources would you want in your toolkit as we work to engage on this topic in the future? We’d love to hear your thoughts in our online community!