SEPTA has been sharing concerns of parents and staff with FCPS Administration and the Fairfax County School Board. The following text is from correspondence sent out prior to the most recent public communication from Teresa Johnson (Assistant Superintendent, Department of Special Services) and prior to the posting of the latest FCPS Special Education FAQ page.
The examples shared were collected from posts from the SEPTA and Fairfax County 2e (Twice Exceptional) Facebook Groups, as well as from many individual emails/messages and phone conversations, keeping identifying information confidential.
SEPTA has been receiving many communications from parents and staff throughout the day and we wanted to share with you and your team some difficult and significant concerns that are being raised. Some of these concerns are also applicable to Gen Ed. Please feel free to forward them on to your Gen Ed colleagues.
Once again, one of the biggest overarching concerns across the board is INCONSISTENCY. These concerns are the same as what we’ve previously discussed many times. When school principals have autonomy over what could be systemic decisions, this is when inconsistency issues occur. If these decisions were being made from the top-down, many of these problems would not exist! When all parents do not learn about new information at the same time, this raises significant disparity and a sense of inequity between both parents and staff alike.
If schools are going to continue to have autonomy to make so many decisions, it must be made explicitly clear on county-wide messaging to parents and to staff that each school is operating independently, and that families must check with their individual schools for variations in plans. This is a golden opportunity for FCPS systemically to switch to a more top-down model. If it works well, this can be touted as rationale for continuing it post-COVID-19. If there’s an uproar of pushback, it can be framed as a temporary measure. Either way, parents and staff get county-wide consistency. From an emotional standpoint, SEPTA is hearing from many, many people (both parents and staff) that these inconsistencies are absolutely infuriating.
Having received a great amount of feedback, I’m going to attempt to summarize issues and then highlight examples from parents and staff. Generally, these concerns can be categorized into a few areas:
• General FCPS Messaging
• Parents of students in elementary school
• Parents of students in secondary school
• Special Education staff
Regarding staff concerns, please know that we are very concerned about the considerable feedback from staff across the system that the rollout of the Temporary Learning Plans has been “a nightmare”, “confusing”, and that “staff frustration is through the roof”.
GENERAL FCPS MESSAGING
1) Technical difficulties with finding links to access Blackboard Collaborate (BBC). Students are told to find the links to BBC via regular Blackboard (BB), but then cannot gain access to BB because the site is crashing. Some teachers are not posting BBC links in blackboard, but rather sending them via email or Google Classroom.
2) BB site crashing frequently. It is understood that this is an IT issue beyond FCPS; nevertheless, it is equally frustrating for students and staff alike. Please explicitly share with students and parents the source of the problem.
3) Communication about school class times, including the delayed opening today, are inconsistent.
a. Students attending classes off-base or out-of-pyramid are receiving conflicting information about class times.
b. Schools are running at different times, which is not due to the usual issues with transportation. This is an opportunity to have all schools at the same level operating at the same times to reduce confusion. If this is not the case, system-wide messaging needs to include a reminder to parents that decisions about class times are made at the school level and that they should check with their individual schools.
c. Teachers cannot be expected, at the last minute, to shift the time of instruction to later in the day; many of them are parenting young children at home. While flexible professionally, it is exceedingly difficult for them to make last-minute shifts as parents in the current situation.
4) School delay/cancellation information was unclear and inconsistent.
a. It was unknown whether a 2-hour delay meant that classes were all pushed back by 2 hours, earlier classes would be missed, or otherwise.
b. Students and parents were notified about the closure from a variety of sources – from teachers, from principals, and eventually from FCPS. We’ve received reports of students learning informally of the cancellation over 30 minutes before the system-wide announcement.
c. Text messages refer parents to online links instead of sharing the pertinent information directly. When there’s a 2-hour delay, the text should say that there is a 2-hour delay. When school is cancelled, the text should say that school is cancelled and can still have a link to follow for additional information.
d. One parent reported that their child’s middle school announced today that they are cancelling BBC classes for the full week (Wednesday and Friday) not just for today.
5) Technology specs requirements were not outlined in enough detail for parents and now some students are under-equipped.
a. FCPS issued laptops have built in cameras and microphones, but many home computers do not have these components. Parents who saw that they would need access to computers and the internet were not aware that they would need cameras and microphones. As a result, some students working from some tablets or some desktop/laptop computers may not have the required capabilities to participate in distance learning if classes require student video and audio participation.
6.) Special Education Temporary Learning Plans (TLPs) have not been clearly introduced to parents (see additional concerns about TLPs below, under Special Ed Staff subheading).
a. Information about TLPs has not been introduced to all parents via a SpEd system-wide email. Instead, parents are starting to find out about them when they are contacted by case managers and/or by word of mouth.
b. TLPs have not been defined nor explained in any system-wide format, leaving both parents and staff confused about many aspects of the plans.
c. The origin and legality of TLPs is not clear to parents nor to staff.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PARENT CONCERNS
1) Students are receiving inconsistent services from SpEd teachers.
a. A parent of a student who is enrolled in Gen Ed and receiving significant SpEd support was told that the student will only receive 1 hour/week of SpEd teacher time.
b. A student received an email from a SpEd teacher saying that the teacher was available by email if needed, but that there would not be any direct instruction. If the student feels that help is needed, the student can email the SpEd teacher. As a secondary note, this email went only to the student and not to the parent.
2) Students are not enrolled properly in BB and therefore cannot access BBC.
a. A student was not enrolled in BBC for either their SpEd class nor for their GenEd class, so the student is only able to access related service “courses” online. The parent is working with IT to resolve the issue in order to get the student invited to both courses. This may be a systemic problem that other parents may not be aware of, and therefore not asking for help. This parent also learned that the SpEd teacher & the Gen Ed teacher have scheduled overlapping virtual class times.
3) The use of BBC is varying by school.
a. Some schools are assigning a virtual BBC classroom to each teacher. Other schools are assigning one gigantic BBC for an entire grade. For many students, especially those with disabilities, this is incredibly difficult to manage.
4) Students are falling through the cracks.
a. A parent shared that their student was recently found ineligible for an IEP and was supposed to be receiving classroom interventions to determine whether they needed more specialized services. This student is having tremendous difficulty keeping up with work and there is no oversight for a student in this situation.
SECONDARY SCHOOL PARENT CONCERNS
1) There are school-to-school inconsistencies for elective offerings.
a. At least one middle school is not offering any BBC meetings of non-core academic electives or SpEd electives such as Reading, Strategies for Success, or Personal Development, while other middle schools are offering these classes through BBC.
b. The same issue is occurring at the high school level – some are offering full elective options, including PE, while others are not.
2) Email messaging is both overwhelming and difficult to navigate; parents are not included. This is a specific request that SEPTA made to DSS prior to the rollout, anticipating that it would be problematic. We recognize that this is a paradoxical concern — there are both too many messages and, at the same time, not enough messages. Both are true problems.
a. Some students are receiving more than 10-15 email messages per day.
b. Parents are not copied on emails from teachers which makes supporting students with executive functioning difficulties nearly impossible.
c. Links to BBC are not centralized in one location (or at least they were not prior to the security update today). Some can be found in emails, on BB, or Google Classroom.
d. Students and parents are being told to check multiple places “throughout the day” for information and updates from teachers (as above, BB, email, &/or Google Classroom, plus FCPS.edu). Neither the students nor parents can be expected to constantly monitor multiple sites. Recommendation should be to check twice daily, at specific times (i.e. 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM) and to only be needing to check one site for all information.
3) Students are not enrolled properly in BB and therefore cannot access BBC.
a. Students who had mid-semester class changes did not get those changes made in their BB accounts. As a result, they are not receiving information from what should be their current classes, just their previous classes. This is especially true for students who had mid-year changes to IEPs and/or school placements.
4) Parents have questions about legal proceedings based on their child’s participation in BBC.
a. How will a child’s refusal to participate in BBC impact their IEP?
b. What if a child is more successful with ad hoc homeschooling and parents want to continue with this rather than participate in BBC? Do they need to opt out of schooling or the IEP? Does this impact eligibility for the future?
SPECIAL ED STAFF CONCERNS
1) Sp Ed instruction options are not consistently offered.
a. An elementary school teacher had to “push” their administrator to allow them to have their own virtual classroom. As such, with the classroom, the teacher is only supposed to be giving 30 minutes of support per week. The teacher voluntarily has chosen to give twice that time, recognizing the need far above the actual service expectation.
2) The quantity of Temporary Learning Plan (TLP) paperwork is overwhelming.
a. Teachers are expected to put in hours and hours of work to complete TLPs for their caseloads, and all on short notice. There is a sense of inequity among SpEd teachers compared to their Gen Ed peers in terms of the amount of work they must do. This is quickly contributing to SpEd teacher burnout.
b. Teachers “waited and waited and waited” for information and guidance about TLP, including over spring break when they could have gotten work done. Then, the plans were suddenly rolled out, with a very steep learning curve and short deadline.
3) TLPs are confusing and unclear, without standard messaging.
a. When teachers ask department heads for clarification, they are not able to answer the questions.
b. Department heads are receiving conflicting information from various sources.
c. PSL’s vary in their speed of delivery of new information, which leads to delays and confusion in the trickle down of information to teachers.
d. Teachers report spending hours this week on the phone with parents to try to explain about TLPs. Without standardized language to explain this, teachers do not know what questions they should be asking of parents, and many conversations end with parents still confused about the plans.
e. Parents are inconsistently hearing about TLPs – some from some teachers, some from friends – instead of a centralized announcement about the plan.
4) Legality of TLP is questioned.
a. The origin of the TLP plan is not clear to staff and families (i.e. Virginia Board of Education, US Department of Education).
b. Staff are concerned about asking parents to sign these documents.
c. It is not clear what happens if a parent refuses to sign or accept a TLP given that “stay put” is not a viable option.
d. Teachers are being asked to include goals for which they cannot accurately collect data to determine goal progress/achievement. This is particularly true for social-emotional goals and also for students who do not communicate verbally, both of which rely heavily on observation. SpEd teachers do not have the ability to monitor or directly support their students while they are in their Gen Ed BBC courses, thus rendering it impossible to collect data.
5) Demands on teachers and related service providers are changing and they do not have the materials they need.
a. A school social worker (SW) was initially told they would not be providing direct instruction. The SW did not bring home curriculum materials (such as Zones of Regulation, Unstuck and On Target). Now they are being told that they can continue to work on these programs, but they cannot access the school to get to the materials.
b. A teacher shared that when they were given “5 minutes to grab materials from the classroom” they grabbed their data records, but not all of their curricula. Now the teacher does not have the materials needed to provide the next steps of instruction from home.
c. During Superintendent Brabrand’s most recent Facebook Live presentation, a question was asked about IEP meetings going forward. His response was for parents to contact their child’s case managers for more information. This was exceedingly frustrating for teachers because they did not, and still do not, have enough answers.