Rethinking Inclusion

Rethinking Inclusion  by Toby J. Karten

Two weeks ago, I was at a Broadway show, presenting at an educational conference, offering on site inclusion coaching, getting a massage, and whispering “Namaste” in a yoga class. Today is different. Never has my refrigerator been so clean, nor has my dog received so much attention.

The inclusion of COVID- 19 in our lives, precipitates this post of educational strategies and resources to “appropriately” include COVID-19 in the lives of students, families, and caregivers, minus the frustration, depression, and pessimism. This is uncharted territory for all of us, but navigable, with can do and will do attitudes and practices.

Access Redefined, But Never Denied

As always, learning occurs, just differently, and collaboratively.  CO-VID-19 never denies a student of services as stated in his or her IEP. The least restrictive environment (LRE) may be temporarily redefined, but access to an appropriate education requires immunity from regressive thinking.

“It is important to emphasize that federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. The determination of how FAPE is to be provided may need to be different in this time of unprecedented national emergency…The Department understands that, during this national emergency, schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided.” UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION and Office for Civil Rights.

Translation = Do Things Differently and Stay Informed

This includes learning about and  providing online website accessibility to ensure that a student receives his or her Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)  and specially designed instruction (SDI). Content, methodology, and delivery is always planned, whether instruction occurs at a classroom desk or at a kitchen table.  A live author event, allowing a fidgety student more movement, providing a  variety of genres on different reading levels, offering a math tutorial, or learning to educate with an online  tool, such as Zoom are a few examples of ways  to continually and creatively teach and reach.

Related services may not be  face-to-face, but as examples, occupational therapy on digital platforms and speech or language services through video conferencing are delivery options. Evaluations can be conducted through webinars or phone calls, if it is determined that the tools and strategies provide relevant information about a student’s educational needs. A parent or caregiver is included for input and provided family supports. Document mitigating circumstances within an IEP narrative. Plan your IEP meeting with the same intentions, but use different materials and means for participation. If feasible and agreeable with districts and families, meetings can be recorded and visuals provided with screen sharing.

As I shared on a Facebook post with a colleague, discrete task analysis, individualization, patience, collaboration, and of course kindness to yourself and others are a few “can and must do’s!” As a staunch inclusion advocate, I facilitate the provision of appropriate supports and adaptations. However, the caveat is that scaffolding needs to help, never enable.These twelve annotated hyperlinked actions and quotes offer academic, social, emotional, and physical routines for educators, families, and students.As an adaptation, here’s a visual of these 12 recommendations. Think about your own accessibility options as you move forward to provide virtual instruction, communicate with  families, and send lesson documents.

Routines to Include

  1. Stay Connected: “Social distancing doesn’t mean losing human connections!”                   Jamil Zaki, Washington Post
  2. Learn and Understand: “Viruses are tiny particles that invade skin and cells.”  (Tim, Moby’s Brain Pop friend)
  3. Practice Norms: “Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.” World Health Organization
  4. Exercise: “Just keep moving.” BBC News
  5. Distance: “Experts recommend planning ahead by considering how you might spend your time, who you can contact for psychosocial support and how you can address any physical or mental health needs you or your family may have.”American Psychological Association
  6. Rest “Good quality, restorative sleep is essential for day-to-day functioning.” World Economic Forum
  7. Stay Positive “Researchers suspect that people who are more positive may be better protected against the inflammatory damage of stress.” Johns Hopkins Medicine
  8. Breathe “Raise your energy to face your day.”        GoNoodle
  9. Hydrate “Common sense things are to try to be as healthy as possible. Get enough sleep. Stay hydrated.”             Virginia Commonwealth University
  10. Help Others “Pandemics can fuel kindness.”            WebMD
  11. Control What You Can “Lead … Make Lemonade Out of Lemons” U.S. Dept. of Defense
  12. Love One Another “Coronavirus is reminding the world that we are one and we are interconnected.”                                                    Seychelles Nation

Although people may prefer denial, dismissal, and deletion, COVID-19 is a reality to be handled calmly, swiftly, and wisely. Educators always rally to support OUR learners! We all wish for the exclusion of this COVID-19 agenda, but together let’s thoughtfully include best practices. Onward…