A few months ago, we interviewed Anjanette Pelletier ’92, Associate Superintendent in San Mateo County. We reached out to Anjanette again to hear her perspective on the impact of COVID-19 on her community, and on educators working with students with disabilities during the pandemic.
Tell us about how educators in your county have adapted to online learning following the emergency shutdowns, and the shortfalls that you’re seeing.
Special education teachers and administrators demonstrated amazing flexibility and creativity to meet the needs of their students. Initial areas of focus were short term plans, which rapidly shifted into work to address access and equity issues across the state. Although these issues have not totally been resolved, and will not be until California has universal access to broadband and students have universal access to a functional electronic device dedicated to their educational needs, there have been amazing strides made across the state.
There was also a need to support many families, which is ongoing, with their basic hierarchy needs of food, shelter and safety. These challenges are some of the hardest to address, as each support and solution is only a drop in the bucket of overall needs in our society for safety, shelter and sustenance.
Looking for the silver lining, what are some examples of creative ways educators have adapted?
Some amazing and fantastic things are occurring for many of our students, and although 100% distance learning is not necessarily the educational model we would have voluntarily chosen, the majority of educators and many families are engaged, continuing the learning and practicing new skills during this time.
As we shifted into a longer-term perspective for distance learning, which most local educational agencies (LEAs) did by April 1, educators responsible for the learning and engagement for students with disabilities began to mobilize. Resources were shared, accounts on multiple platforms were obtained to ensure as many families as possible could engage, and collaborative schedules were developed so that supports and services could be delivered as best as possible.
How have you experienced these changes?
My work as with the state SELPA Association (special education local plan area) has combined the roles for supporting my local LEAs and advocacy at the state and federal level for guidance, resources and funding necessary to meet this unprecedented time. Multiple advocacy letters were sent to key leaders and I participated in opportunities nationally and locally to advocate for students with disabilities, and in seemingly endless meetings, workgroups and committee hearings focused on how to address the impact of this global event. (Zoom fatigue is real.) This bigger picture view has included focus on budget, resources and needed legislative or other guidance and flexibility to ensure our work can continue.
How do you see the future?
The special education community was pleased that both the governor’s revise and the legislative proposals keep intact equity funding increases for special education. These resources will be more critical than ever as we plan for reopening schools and returning to provision of more individualized, in-person presence with students who have been without their direct supports and services.
Although distance learning may be here to stay in some format, the individualized nature of many special education services, especially for students with disabilities that impact their functioning and learning more severely, pushes us to find solutions that would allow students to return to campus. For example, Marin County Office of Education is currently piloting two classroom opening models and San Mateo County Office of Education is opening three programs for summer education with their schools for youth served in community day and juvenile hall schools.
Educators are working their hardest to solve the riddle of how to meet the CDC guidance and local public health orders, maintaining safety and health, while working to ensure a return to school campus. We are especially focused on how to ensure we have ongoing mental and behavioral health supports, both now and as we return, as the anticipated stress and trauma responses to this shared experience will impact students and families as we return and continue to respond to Covid-19.