2E Blog

Support Students with Disabilities through Communication, Collaboration, and Common Sense

 – COVID-19 Version

By Pamela Kondé, Sosne Kondé Policy Solutions, PLLC
March 19, 2020

With school buildings closed in all but 11 states, and lengthy weeks ahead with virtual “online learning” planned for K-12, public school leaders across the country need to figure out how to support their students with disabilities (especially those with IEPs and 504 Plans).

Virtual Collaboration: First, schools should hold IEP meetings as scheduled, or even expedited, now that school staff have more flexibility in their schedules.  Discussions should take place over e-mail and conference call. As the rest of the world has already figured out, administrators, teachers, and parents do NOT need to be in the same room together to get our work accomplished. The show must go on. This more flexible time may be the best opportunity to see each other as fellow human beings, listen to each other’s concerns, roll up our sleeves, find common ground, and finish up those controversial IEPs or resolve those seemingly never-ending battles over implementation. We have the technology; we just need the collaborative will to get it done.

Partnership & Problem-Solving: Second, even if an official “IEP team” meeting was not scheduled, this is a perfect time to stop, reflect, and reset in situations where parents have been battling the school system – fighting to have their concerns heard and their children’s needs met. Are we applying a strengths-based approach that also addresses underlying concerns, or are we only putting band-aids on symptoms as they arise? What should we be doing differently? Are we being flexible – solving problems outside the box with creativity and common sense? Or were we all acting defensively, with our backs pressed against the wall, teeth and claws sharpened? Use this rare opportunity to reflect, prioritize, and problem-solve as a parent-school team, as partners, not enemies. As noted above, this relationship building can also be accomplished virtually.  Start with an e-mail conversation or phone call between two people, perhaps a parent and one trusted school staff member, and then expand the problem-solving to the entire IEP team only as necessary. Sometimes less is more.

Support Special Needs Virtually: Finally, as leaders of closed school buildings develop and implement “online learning” systems, federal and state laws guarantee students with disabilities the same rights to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as they did inside those schools. FAPE may look and feel different, and in light of COVID-19 concerns, it should still protect the health of staff and student alike, but the students’ needs must be addressed and met. Case managers should reach out by phone or through e-mail to parents and start these conversations immediately, especially with more flexible schedules. For some students, working from home will be easier. The home environment, and fewer class requirements, for example, may reduce anxiety, sensory, or executive function challenges. In other cases, 100% reliance on online learning may increase anxiety, be inappropriate for a given student, or be wholly unacceptable to serving the student’s physical needs. That’s where compromise may need to be found, especially if the student is immunosuppressed and cannot take the risk that a service provider brings coronavirus into his home. In that case, compensatory services may need to be provided during the summer, when it is safe to do so. Alternatively, that could be a situation where the family receives more IDEA-listed “parent counseling and training” virtually to temporarily substitute for the service provider entering the home. These conversations also need to be pro-active and collaborative, addressing the needs of the whole child while understanding the limitations caused by this worldwide health crisis.

2E Students: For twice-exceptional (2E) students, in particular, this is a good time for students to get their bearings, catch up on missing assignments, and get re-organized. For gifted students with executive function deficits, this can also be a good time to review material that was missed or finalize that assignment that was overlooked. With many parents now working from home, their schedules may be more flexible, albeit equally as busy, to work with staff and student alike to learn and implement that electronic organizational chart. Teachers can use this unique opportunity by reflecting on their students’ strengths and allowing them to show mastery of a given subject in alternative ways. Many 2E students with ADHD, ASD, or anxiety are also challenged by planning, drafting, reviewing, and revising writing assignments.  This “break” can be the perfect time to finally work on those writing skills, as applied to schoolwork or perhaps a topic of the student’s choosing (the traditional five-paragraph essay or creative writing about aliens or unicorns).  Special education teachers have more flexibility to serve students’ needs that they don’t normally have during the busy seven- or eight-period day of a secondary school student.

Please do not rely on this blog as a substitute for legal advice.  Please note that the federal guidance and state administrative decisions are changing almost daily.  If you would like to work with Sosne Kondé Policy solutions, PLLC, please contact us.  We would be happy to provide our 2E legal services, advocacy, and problem-solving approach to ensure that the schools are meeting your child’s needs, in general or specifically during these uncertain times.  We can help with IEP or 504 Plan development, implementation, and representation in meetings and hearings, in VA, MD, and DC.


Changing the Narrative on 2E

By Pamela Kondé, Sosne Kondé Policy Solutions, PLLC
January 6, 2020

Twice-exceptional (2E) children have both gifts and special needs, so schools need to see them as individuals and act accordingly. Often schools focus their efforts on addressing the behavioral challenges from ADHD or ASD, for example, and then they’re done. In focusing only on the challenges, however, school staff often forget that 2E students are gifted, with the potential to see, achieve, and reach past our wildest dreams.  Schools need to “change the narrative” – focusing instead on supporting children to meet their potential, achieve, and serve our communities as adults.  2E students think outside-the-box and make connections that neurotypical children may not make so easily.  We need to nurture their talents and support them toward high achievement, whether that’s getting them college-ready, preparing them for employment, supporting their invention ideas, or mentoring their entrepreneurial dreams.


Finding 2E Students’ Strengths and Planning Accordingly

By Pamela Kondé, Sosne Kondé Policy Solutions, PLLC
January 11, 2020

For example, using a strength-based model for 2E high school students could include an upfront investment in school counseling, allocating more time for the school counselor to work with 2E students before scheduling each year to connect their passions to their class choices.

This process should start in the spring of 8th grade (freshman year at the latest), when students begin to choose high school classes. Schools should give 2E students longer time slots for counseling sessions to personalize the expectations instead of lowering them, prepare with a call home beforehand with parents, and a questionnaire for parents to complete with their 2E children.

Based on the completed questionnaires, in the course of an hour or two, school counselors could counsel 2E students about available college majors and other school programs that fit their interests. This discussion could inspire them and prepare them with a knowledge about the necessary prerequisites. While students’ interests may change over time, this still works for a number of reasons. We know from long-held research that 2E students are more stimulated by topics that interest them. As such, they are better able to focus and behavioral challenges are decreased (not ameliorated entirely; this is not a magic bullet). It will also help them explore their interests to determine and fulfill long-term goals. Finally, it will reframe the counselor’s narrative about the child – focusing on the giftedness and potential, instead of the disabilities and challenges.

It will also help the counselor find a good balance for the student that isn’t based entirely on whether a class is AP, IB, Honors, General Education, or Special Education. Counseling and course selection should be informed by what individual 2E students like and where they excel— so an AP Class in Computer Coding may be a better course than a General Education math class. An AP Research class, where students get to research a topic of interest, may be *easier* than a traditional English class.

Of course, the 2E student’s challenges should not be ignored in this process. Because it is more personalized, it can also be more proactive. Perhaps an ASD student loves history, but his writing needs work. The counselor can agree to sign him up for AP or Honors History, but provide a writing boot camp beforehand to prepare him. During the writing program, he can work on the exact type of writing he will need for history class. Or a school can set him up with a writing tutor to meet once a week after school to brainstorm ideas, chunk writing assignments, get started, work in grammar, and edit. By being proactive, not waiting until the student has failed an essay test, schools set him up for success, and watch him thrive with insights and connections between different aspects of historical analysis.

Lastly, schools will argue that they do not have enough resources to provide longer counseling sessions. However, in this proactive model (which would cost about 1-2 hours of counselor time per student upfront), these same counselors would likely need less time in contentious meetings with adults later. In fact, this systemic change may even save the schools some money.

Change the narrative.  Change the model.  Change the system.  Set students up for success.