One of the advantages of having 70 specialists placed in 34 school districts across 4 states is the ability to see the public education landscape with a relatively wide lens. Our SLPs, School Psychs, and OTs serve students in settings ranging from one-room schoolhouses to some of the biggest school districts in the West. In an ordinary year, they would be seeing students in placements varying from general education to self-contained therapeutic schools and everywhere in between. Fall 2020 has drastically changed the terrain, though, and we were curious what a snapshot of student service delivery during COVID might look like. To that end, we surveyed our staff and thought some of the results might be interesting to share with you as you navigate these questions for your own districts. Here’s what we learned:
Where the Students Are
The majority (59.5%) of the districts we serve are operating 100% virtually at the moment. The second most popular service model right now has some students in select groups attending in person, while the majority of students attend virtually. The districts falling into this category are either having only younger students (preK-3) attend in-person or they have made special provisions for high-needs students to attend school in-person. The remaining districts are using some combination of a hybrid model, or have given families the choice of whether to attend in person or virtually. This distribution roughly follows the distribution of urban vs. rural districts that we serve and certainly reflects the wide range of state, county, and local rules that outline when students can safely return to school buildings.
Where Our Staff Are, Now and in the Future
We place our specialists into 3 types of placements: traditional on-site, 100% telepractice, and our hybrid on-site/telepractice Hello There model. With this question, we wanted to better understand where our staff were physically located at the moment and to what degree they’re doing what’s “normal.” The vast majority of our staff (60.9%) reported that their typical work placement is disrupted this Fall, whether that be working from home instead of in a school building or not traveling for our hybrid service model. This means that 90.2% of our staff are teleworking from home at the moment! The remaining 9.8% are either seeing students in-person in school buildings or are teleworking from their school building.
But, as we all know, this situation is very much in flux so we asked whether folks had concrete plans beyond this month. It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that things are still very much up in the air for the late fall and moving on into winter. When asked for additional comments, our staff offered more insight into what a moving target all of this is. Some stated that their districts were re-evaluating options at the end of this month/beginning of November, while others reported plans in place for students returning to school that were abruptly shelved after public outcry. Some districts are starting to experiment with bringing select groups back into school buildings while others putting their resources into refining and optimizing the systems that they’re using while students are at home. Of course, this survey was done a couple of weeks ago and all this may have changed in the interim! Here in the Portland, OR metro area, some of the major school districts have announced just this week that they will be staying with 100% online instruction through the end of January at least. This graph reminds us of the uncertainty we’re all facing and the importance of staying almost infinitely flexible.
What Our Work Looks Like
One issue that is proving especially challenging for practitioners everywhere this fall is assessment. Among our staff, 26.3% are using virtual versions of standardized assessments through either Q-global or Q-interactive. An additional 35.1% are doing in-person assessments, either by appointment or as they usually would in the school day. Some staff (31.6%) are using alternatives to standardized assessments such as file reviews, work samples, or rating scales, while 7% of our staff do not yet have clear direction from their district on how to conduct student assessments. The comments offered from our staff suggest that many districts have either set-up or are in the process of setting up assessment centers and that there’s a fair amount of creative problem solving going on to allow for evaluation timelines to be met.
Finally, we asked about PPE. Those three little letters (which very few of us even knew 6 months ago!) have been a huge point of discussion and contention in all conversations around students and staff returning to school buildings. About half (48.6%) of our staff said that PPE is not impacting their ability to do their job. This is likely reflective of the number of students being seen in their homes by our staff who are in their own homes. No need for PPE! The other half of our staff, however, are feeling some negative impact from the need for PPE. They reported challenges related to seeing and hearing students wearing masks when working with them via telepractice, clear masks fogging up, difficulty assessing students behind barriers and with masks on, face shields distorting sounds and reflecting the computer screen when doing telepractice, high-needs students being unable and/or unwilling to wear any sort of PPE, and so on. As one clinician said, “It’s time consuming, uncomfortable, and makes my normal routines sometimes ineffective, so I have to reimagine how to do things, but it’s doable.”
And that’s really a fitting note on which to conclude this fall 2020 snapshot of student service delivery during COVID. Things are upsidedown for most of us across the region that we serve, and we’re all being pushed to re-imagine how to do pretty much everything. But. It’s doable. And we’re doing it! And so are you! Kudos to all of you out there that are working so hard to make sure that students continue to be served and taken care of. We plan on administering this survey again this winter and once more in the spring, so we look forward to seeing how things evolve and change over the course of the year. Until then, hang in there and remember: we got this.