Special Education, School Closures, and Covid-19

During this time of uncertainty, it’s hard to know where to find answers, it’s hard to know who to trust, and it’s hard to relax. But parents of special needs children are uniquely prepared with the skills we need. Looking for answers like a detective, tenaciously searching out info like a bloodhound, or demanding someone pay attention to our child’s needs is something we do every day. This isn’t new. It’s just life.

And for many of us, the education system is the Goliath to our David.  This is where the fight gets real.

So today, let’s get some accurate information out there. Let’s talk facts on the special education system and Covid-19. Here’s what it looks like going forward:

Once shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted, state and local leaders have indicated that schools will likely need to “toggle back and forth” on social distancing restrictions in response to changing conditions until a “herd immunity” is achieved in the state. (Herd Immunity-a buildup of immunity to a population due to natural immunity or the administration of vaccinations)

Based on available information, it is reasonable and prudent for the K-12 schools in Sonoma County to create contingency plans for a range of possible school operations scenarios, based on the assumptions laid out in the following section.

SCOE- Sonoma County Office of Education Guidelines for Fall 2020-2021:

It will be safe for schools to return to normal operations when all the following have occurred:

The California stay-at-home order has been lifted.

-The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county has remained constant or declined for 28 consecutive days
-The directive to physically distance has been removed
-Limits on group gatherings have been lifted


The following options are listed in no particular order of preference and are only suggestions based on current conditions and information available at this time. Each district may determine the best option that works for their students and school community. Districts are welcome to define an alternative or blended model to conform to social distancing standards set by the County Health Officer.

Option 1:
-Limit the number of students on campus to 50% of normal.
-Divide all classes into two equal groups: one would come to school on Monday and Wednesday, the other on Tuesday and Thursday.
-All teachers provide each group with two days of direct instruction and support, and three days of assignments to complete at home each week.
-Secondary schools could also implement a block schedule to reduce passing periods and lower the frequency of touches in each classroom.
-Have teachers change classrooms, students would stay in the same classroom/cohort.
-Provide take-home meals for each eligible student before they leave each day.

Option 2:
-Limit the number of students on campus to 25% of normal.
-All classes are divided into four equal groups: one for each day of the week, Monday-Thursday.
-All teachers provide each group with one day of direct instruction and support, and four days of assignments to complete at home.
-Provide take-home meals for each eligible student before they leave each day.
-Use Friday for teachers to provide individual or small-group support by appointment or to prepare packets for the next week.

Option 3:
For districts that can provide universal internet access, pair Option 1 or 2 with a classroom webcast to provide direct instruction five-days per week.

Option 4:
Rural schools and small districts with less than 100 students may choose to open with the understanding that recesses will be separated into smaller play areas/zones in compliance with social distancing requirements.

Option 5:
Districts may opt for an AM/PM minimum-day schedule with a waiver filed with CDE to waive the state minimum number of minutes.

Option 6:
Districts may opt for a blended learning program that alternates students between on-campus and distance learning each day/week.

CRITERIA/ RESTRICTIONS:  SAFETY IS THE PRIORITY (realizing that all decisions may not align with best instructional practices)

This list is not comprehensive, unfolding daily with information and updates from health officials.

-Limit student and staff contact
-Limit cohort size to reduce contact (TBD- up to 15?)
-Use childcare program as placement criteria when making cohorts
-Have siblings across schools attend on the same days
-Limit movement across campus
-Restrict non-essential movement on campus or overlap between groups
-Recess and lunch restrictions
-Not changing classes
-Maintain clean campus
-Clean spaces in between use
-Staff childcare
-Allow staff to bring their own children into their classroom breakout rooms

Give staff priority to site-based childcare

Explore adding an infant/toddler childcare program designed for staff members’ children

Possible Models:
Split classes into halves. Track A: attends class in person Monday/Tuesday.
Track B: attends class Wednesday/Thursday.
Both groups join Zoom to watch lessons for other groups.
Friday is individual/small group support and services, and teacher planning.
Track A: attends class in person Monday/Tuesday.
Track B: attends class Thursday/Friday.
Both groups join Zoom to watch lessons for other groups. Wednesday is individual/small group support and services, teacher planning, and extensive campus cleaning between tracks.
Track A and Track B assigned one week or two-week blocks alternating between distance learning classroom-based instruction.

-Possibilities for specialists
-Virtual push-in sessions
-Friday Rotating Specials Day (virtual)