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Havre special ed: Adapting to the pandemic

Special education in Havre Public Schools started out with difficulty this school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but adapted, the program director said.

“It was a difficult start to the year, just I think for everyone, but I think everybody was anxious and anticipating getting back,” Havre Public Schools Director of Special Education and Federal Projects Karla Geda said. “What we’re doing with the special ed department may look a little bit different at each building level, depending on the grades of the students are in and the level of work that they can complete independently.”

She said the students have the opportunity to choose to be in the Group A, which they would go to school face-to-face Mondays and Wednesdays, or Group B which attend school Tuesdays and Thursday. 

The teachers themselves have to really work hard and diligently on how they make sure and be certain that they’re looking at their service minutes, she said, — how are they providing the services to those students, especially if they only get to see the student two times a week, and if the teachers only see their students two times a week, what does it look like to provide those services.

Service minutes are a time allocated for direct service of instruction through specially designed instruction, she said, adding that this means that a student will receive specially designed instruction for their Individualized Education Program.  

She said that instruction is provided by the special education teacher or paraprofessional being directed by the teacher.  

“The instruction is geared toward a measurable annual goal that has been identified for the student to increase their skill in a specific area of their deficit,” Geda said.  “Some areas that we provide services for are reading; math; written expression; self-help and independence; social, emotional, behavioral, and communication; there can also be service minutes provided by a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, or a physical therapist.”

She said an example of that may be  if a student is in need of specially designed instruction in reading they may have a goal that says, “When presented with text on his instructional level, the student will use context clues to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words in reading materials with 80 percent accuracy, as measured by written work samples by the end of this IEP date.”  

The work toward achieving this goal would be documented and the data collected to see if the student had or had not met their goal by the anticipated date, she said.

“If they had met the goal, then it would be time for the team to convene for the annual meeting and determine a new appropriate goal with more intensity toward the skill (or) deficit,” Geda said. “If they had not, then the team would determine an appropriate goal that would be more defined or specific to the skill or deficit being instructed.”

Some the services offered for special education students are also available.

The district is able to use teletherapy for speech, she said, which gives parents an option to have teletherapy done at home even if the student attends school, whether they are in Group A or Group B.

At the different grade levels, they do things differently, she said.

She said at lower grade levels, in K-2 some of the students are doing packets and the teachers are checking in with them while still using Google Classroom or Seesaw event where the students can still access communicating with their teachers, and still able to access their instruction.

The older students, grades third through a senior in high school, are using Google Classroom, she said, and they are able to log in and able to have that face-to-face instruction.

“It’s trying to navigate around making sure that we’re being diligent and servicing for IEP’s to be able to work on those goals and to make progress toward those goals for our special education students,” Geda said. “One of the most important things is for students to stay engaged no matter where they are. Whether they are on that face-to-face instruction day or their virtual days, or if (in) Group C where they’ve opted out (of in-class instruction) and they just are the remote learner, it is still making sure that they are logging in, they are taking their attendance and they are staying engaged, so that we can move forward with those goals.”

She said they have been working really hard and diligently as a district to make sure that they are lessening the number of students in a classroom to have the opportunity to be seated and be socially distanced, and be able to remove their masks.

What she has noticed about the students, she said, is they are great and working at it.

“I think because it’s their opportunity to have some of that social piece back again,” Geda said. “They want to see their friends and they want to be able to have those interactions, and it’s so important for that piece to occur for all those, but I think most importantly is the fact that they’re doing just doing a great job following the guidelines and know that they are following those guidelines keeps us able to stay open as a school.

“I know some of the other schools in our region, in our area, have to had to shut down a time or two due to the fact of positivity testing, but our students are very diligent about that because they want to be able to still want to have that interaction with their friends,” she added.

She said they are following the rules really well and she thinks the students were ready to get back to work.

When someone walks in to a building and walks in to a special education classroom, the students are on task, they are working, because they were thirsting for that and now they are thriving in it, Geda said.

Compared to when the district started distanced learning in March to now, she said, the students have gotten better at participating, attendance and so on.

“We knew more what to expect because of the shutdown in March, and I believe it was more in flux in March, but the plan that district has put in place, I think that it gave more certainty to what they needed to do and how they needed to do it,” Geda said. “Overall, the majority of the students and parents are working hard about logging in because they need to take their attendance every day on their virtual days (would happen), once they’re in class, the teacher can take it on a face-to-face instruction day, but the virtual days they need to log in their attendance.”

The district’s expectation is they have to do their work and they have to turn it in, she said.

She said the students are living up to the expectations.

“I think we are in a better spot now than we were at the very beginning,” she said. “I think people struggled a bit on how to log in, making sure they could work through those systems, get through their attendance and then into their Google Classroom, etc. … I think we’ve seen that it’s better each week.

“I think we’ve worked the bugs out and everybody’s doing a great job,” Geda added.


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