Support for Parents: Thinking through Disaster Response and Recovery
“School will be closed through the remainder of the school year.” Messages like that one sparked cheers from students, who envisioned snow day fun times, and sighs from parents trying to imagine how to continue to keep their children occupied at home while we wait for social distancing requirements to lessen.
In recent weeks, you may have seen a number of resources made available to assist parents with identifying learning activities at home. While the majority of the country is still in a response posture, it is important to think about what issues will also need to be addressed as your community moves into recovery. It will not be as simple as saying, “The kids will return to school.”
J&M has experience working with state and local governments and educators on recovery efforts specific to children and youth in disasters. While never utilized with a pandemic of this scale, many of the best practices and lessons learned from disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Maria, and the California Wildfires can be applicable in these circumstances. Beginning the conversation will help us navigate this crisis and pay dividends as we confront the long-term challenges of recovery.
After those “traditional” disasters, parents have supported students with grieving, behavioral health issues, loss-related services, and continuation of learning. This new transition from school-based learning to home-based has been challenging, but equally as challenging will be the return to school (whether that be this year or next fall). Our goal is to provide some tips to help you navigate the situation you are currently in as well as plan for the “new normal”–whatever that may be.
Kim Vann, Executive Director of Bright Futures USA and J&M Consultant noted: “When we return to school—and we will—we will all be in the same boat. There will be plenty of time to ‘catch up’. Right now, the most important thing to focus on is the well-being and positive engagement of your child. Much like summertime, this time can be a gift to our children and our families. A time to try out and learn new things that our typical schedules rarely allow—learning to cook, do the laundry, explore other interests or hobbies, enrich faith experience and, best of all, enjoy family time!”
There are two groups of students that we want to highlight that may have different immediate and recovery needs—graduating seniors and special education students. Parents of these individuals may feel additional stress because they do not believe that they are able to meet all of their children’s needs.
While educators and administrators work to maintain a sense of normalcy with their students as far as academics go and focus on the positive, they are still struggling to figure out how to celebrate milestones for their students, especially those who are graduating. With graduation ceremonies and parties, proms, and class trips all cancelled, along with spring sports and concerts, parents of seniors have the added stress of trying to put a positive spin on an anti-climactic end to 13 years of schooling. Unlike a disaster where you are dealing with infrastructure damage, a pandemic requires social distancing and, even if you have a physical location to gather in, your children and their friends may not be able to interact as they normally would.
As CJ Huff, J&M Consultant and former superintendent of Joplin Schools, noted, “Maintaining that sense of connectedness is really important during response and recovery not just for the kids, but the adults as well.” While the end-of-the-year celebrations may not be what the student was expecting, schools, parents, and communities can work together to continue to identify creative ways of keeping our children connected during this time.
For this group, many were already planning a transition of some sort in the coming months, whether it be to a job, higher education, or community service. What is less clear is how the current situation will impact their future plans. There may be instances where the college they were planning to attend is only conducting distance learning for the fall or maybe the job they were planning to start is delaying any new hiring.
Along with encouraging these students to remain in contact with their friends while they continue their schoolwork, parents should begin the “what-if” discussions for potential changes to future plans. What if the college only offers distance learning in the fall? What if the community organization cannot accept new members? What if the job falls through? While stressful, beginning to make a plan on how they could address these contingencies will allow students to exert some control over an environment that is constantly changing.
Special Education Students
Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) spell out all services that a child will receive during the year. From the number of occupational, physical, and speech therapy sessions a week, to whether an aide and/or special accommodations for testing is required, these documents guide the entire educational process. They also include the child’s goals for the coming year.
With special education students at home and enforced social distancing, it will be nearly impossible to continue to provide these services as documented. A March 16, 2020, Department of Education memo noted that, “If a student does not receive services after an extended period of time, the student’s IEP Team, or appropriate personnel under Section 504, must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services are needed consistent with the respective applicable requirements, including to make up for any skills that may have been lost.”
Parents need to take a moment to think about this new normal for our students and understand that the schools, teachers, and therapists are operating within the same degree of uncertainty as we are. As you think through what therapies and supports might continue during a recess from school, work with your school to identify a way to continue them.
When you start to look at recovery, part of this process will involve assessing students when services resume to determine if any compensatory services are needed. If parents start now by keeping a log of what activities were accomplished at home, it may assist the team in quickly identifying what areas they should prioritize.
Stay tuned as we continue to bring additional thoughts and recommendations for parents as you begin to look ahead at the recovery from this pandemic.