| Kitsap Sun
SOUTH KITSAP — In-person occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and other intensive support services for students with disabilities are on hold in South Kitsap School District until Oct. 19, Andy Rogers, executive director of special education, told the school board Wednesday.
Like some other districts in Western Washington and several in Kitsap County, South Kitsap’s plans to get special education students back into buildings for services were delayed as the district assessed clarification from the state’s Department of Labor & Industries about what types of PPE and masks are required for staff, like therapists and school nurses, who work in close contact with students.
Districts have said they need extra time to procure the equipment — like N95 masks — and to train staff on their use.
Back in March when schools closed down because of COVID-19, most students with special needs did not get in-person services, and parents were thrown into the gap to help them adapt to online therapies and instruction.
Remote services have improved since then, Rogers said. The district purchased a teletherapy platform that is working well, and it was already in the midst of introducing an upgrade to its special education curriculum. The district worked with families to meet each student’s individual needs.
“We had to rebuild our entire special education program to adapt to remote learning,” Rogers said. “That means one student at a time.”
Special education staff and administrators met with families to put that in place.
The district has been working with families of special education students to develop individual plans for in-person services as needed. In general, special education students should be placed in the “least restrictive environment,” Rogers said, and that means with general education students, who are now all remote. As grade levels are gradually brought back to the classroom, special education students in those grades will return as well.
Students who receive more than 50% of their education in “self-contained” classrooms have been considered for in-person instruction using a rubric to determine their individual needs, Rogers said.
The district had a list of 85 students it was considering for in-person learning “before we ran into the glitch with L&I,” Rogers said. The district has set up two evaluation centers to help determine those needs, one at Madrona Heights Developmental Preschool, one at South Kitsap High School. The district hopes to set up more centers to address a backlog of students who need evaluation.
To date, four students have been evaluated and are receiving in-person services. Eight have been tested and cleared to get services. Sixty had been within 10 days of starting the evaluation process.
“We had to put things on pause,” Rogers said. “We anticipate Oct. 19 being able to lift that.”
Rogers said they’ve found some special education students are doing better with remote learning.
The district is also building custom transportation routes for students taking into account social distancing on buses.
Superintendent Tim Winter said the district had developed a document outlining which positions require which types of PPE in line with L&I guidance. He said L&I had asked to use it as a template for other districts.
Despite all the work going on behind the scenes, parents of special education students may have missed the memo, said school board president Eric Gattenby, whose daughter is on the autism spectrum and attends South Kitsap High School.
“We’re taking all the steps, but I think we missed the opportunity to get that out to the stakeholders,” he said. “We need to be better at communicating that out.”
Central Kitsap School District has also reported delays in providing in-person special education because of issues with PPE for staff in high-risk positions.
North Kitsap School District has provided no in-person special education services yet, said spokeswoman Jenn Markaryan.
Bainbridge Island School District has been providing a limited number of special education students with in-person services since the beginning of school.
Bremerton School district has 85 special education students who are receiving in-person services.
North Mason School District began this week providing services at school buildings to some special ed students with a focus on those who need internet access.
Chris Henry reports on education and community news for the Kitsap Sun. Reach her at (360) 792-9219 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support coverage of local news by signing up today for a digital subscription.