Supporting English Learners with Disabilities During Remote Learning and School Reopening

Sara Kangas, assistant professor of special education, recommends policy guidance specifically addressing the needs of English Learners with disabilities.

Story by

Emily Collins

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Experts say learning loss is a key risk for students due to changing school conditions as a result of the pandemic. For English learners (EL) with disabilities, a group that represents 15.3 percent of all ELs in U.S. K-12 public schools, the risks are even greater.

In a report released earlier this year, Restart & Recovery: Supporting English Learners with Disabilities During Remote Learning and School Reopening: Recommendations for State Leaders, published by The Council of Chief State School Officers, Sara Kangas, assistant professor of special education, suggests ways state leaders can address the needs of ELs with disabilities during remote learning and school reopening.

With the understanding that ELs represent a diverse group of students with a wide variety of unique needs, these recommendations focus on five key policy areas: special education qualification, dual service provision, Individualized Education Program (IEP) and Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) meetings, IEP development and updates, and progress monitoring.

State Guidance Related to Special Education Qualification

Kangas emphasizes the importance of conducting timely evaluations during remote learning and encourages states to consider the feasibility of virtual diagnostic assessments, as well as assess ELs for disabilities in linguistically responsible ways in both remote and in-person settings.

"Health and safety concerns during the pandemic may prevent in-person diagnostic assessments (e.g., cognitive assessments) for ELs during the special education evaluation process," writes Kangas. "In these instances, consider whether remote diagnostic assessments can be implemented."

Kangas also encourages the state to interpret virtual diagnostic assessment data with caution, and emphasizes the risks and inequities of both over- and underrepresentation.

State Guidance Related to Dual-Service Provision

For ELs with disabilities, states should provide dual services for remote, hybrid, or in-person formats, suggests Kangas. She also suggests states consider offering related services through a flexible schedule and to continue to accommodate these students even if they opt out of in-person learning, or if they are recovering from COVID-19.

Kangas says once schools fully reopen, states should determine whether additional services for ELs with disabilities are required.

State Guidance Related to Individualized Education Program and Individualized Family Service Plan meetings

Kangas urges states to continue holding IEP meetings and providing guidance to EL parents and guardians as needed in how to access virtual meetings.

"When IEP meetings cannot be convened in person, it is important for local education agencies (LEAs) to continue holding IEP meetings remotely," she writes. "States can provide their LEAs with, or direct them to sources for, translated instructions and guidance, such as lists of technical requirements, screenshots of log-in procedures, tutorial videos, etc."

It is important that EL parents, guardians, and students are able to fully participate in IEP meetings, and states should clarify that English language development (ELD) teachers should be able to participate in these meetings as well.

State Guidance Related to Individualized Education Program Development and Updates

As each EL's individualized plan is reviewed and revised, ELD goals, services, and specially designed instruction should be integrated into IEPs in consultation with ELD teachers. Additionally, teams should anticipate and document changes to any dual-service provision plans and address any challenges.

When updating the IEP, accommodations for English language proficiency and content-based assessments should be considered, says Kangas.

"To support IEP teams, state leaders from special education and ELD offices can jointly develop or update assessment guidance," she adds.

State Guidance Related to Progress Monitoring

It is key that each state’s progress-monitoring guidance for both ELs and students with disabilities explicitly addresses the dual disability and language needs of ELs with disabilities, suggests Kangas in the report.

Instead of working in silos, Kangas encourages states to provide strategies and best practices for sharing student data across all involved departments.

Professional learning opportunities should be designed and supported and when learning is interrupted, evidence-based and culturally/linguistically responsive interventions should be developed.

“As we grapple with COVID-19 variants, periodic school closures and shifts to remote learning across the United States will likely continue into the 2021-2022 school year,” said Kangas. “With these interruptions to learning, ELs with disabilities and their families are disproportionately disadvantaged. For this reason, state policies that address and advocate for the unique needs of ELs with disabilities during the pandemic remain a pressing concern.”

Story by

Emily Collins

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