It’s almost here – the first day of school! For so many families, it’s a time of excitement and nerves. It can also create anxiety or trigger past trauma, and even under the best of circumstances the return to school can still be bumpy for a student with disabilities.
And then there’s school during a pandemic. So many things we thought we knew about returning to school have changed. Is your child attending in person? Have they switched to Online Learning (previously known as Distributed Learning), or have they been registered as a homeschooler? Are you not sure what the plan is yet, or even what will be available to your child?
Here are a few things to think about and do in anticipation of the first day, that are still important during the pandemic:
Find out when that first day is – will your child be attending in person on the first day of school? Often schools will suggest that your child may be more comfortable attending a few days or even a few weeks later instead, and sometimes you won’t find this out until very close to the date. And some families choose a later transition because they know that this is what will work best for their child. Just know that it’s your child’s right to be educated alongside their classmates and the school should be prepared to receive them on the first day alongside every other child.
If your child will be moving to or continuing Online Learning (previously known as Distributed Learning), or homeschooling, make sure they know the plan for when you will start home learning, and talk about the new routine.
Review your child’s IEP document. When was the last time it was updated? Was it a useful document with SMART goals? Or does it follow the new competency-based IEP format? In which case, were you and your child active participants in it’s development? Were goals achieved and revisited through the year? If the answers are more in the ‘no’ column, it may be useful to make some notes of some goals you think would be reasonable for your child to achieve, and bring them in to discuss with the principal before school starts. The teacher needs to have these tools in hand to give your child the best start to the school year.
AdvoCon2021 is our annual education advocacy conference happening online at the end of this month. GET TICKETS HERE You can gain a lot of knowledge and connect with other parents by attending.
One of the workshops that will be useful is:
Write a ‘getting to know me’ letter on behalf of your child – if they are ready to do so, support them in helping to write it themselves. This letter should contain some positive things that the teacher, EA and students will enjoy about your child, some things that are challenging for them that should be noted, and some things your child is interested in, things they find motivational, and what they are looking forward to this school year. Here’s a useful tool we like, by Champions for Community Wellness: Back to School Cheat Sheet
A more comprehensive, free tool is MyBookletBC by the Family Support Institute of BC. It’s like an online binder of all the important information you need to keep together as your child journeys through various systems.
Before school starts, you may want to make a social story with your child that will create a visual map of what to expect. It can include a basic morning routine, getting to school, or a guide to their home learning space, what to expect during the school day, the schedule for meals and breaks, leaving school to go home or to an activity, etc. You can include information around potential triggers and remind your child of their strategies to manage their stress. You should also indicate how the routine will change, and if needed take time to transition them from summer activities to the new schedule and structure at home as well as at school. Here’s a good social story on going back to school. Google is a great resource for many tools to help communicate about pandemic measures both in and outside of schools with your child or youth.
If your child is attending in person, and where possible, arrange with the principal/teacher to visit the new classroom a couple of days before school starts. If your child is in middle or high school, try to arrange with the principal to rehearse the routine of going from class to class and navigating the halls. Ask them to share any COVID-19 safety-specific routines. Ask for any additional support that may be needed. During COVID-19, this may look like a virtual visit. Here’s a video one school made for their students last year: PSII Walkthrough
Establish an early bond with the teacher and Education Assistant– form an alliance – ‘Team Child” – you’re all on the same side of the table together finding ways to bring out the best in your child and optimize their learning.
Review your child’s rights. Every child has the right to equitable access to education. In Canada, the Moore case, and Hewko set certain precedents around the supports being the ramp to access, and instructional control. Human rights law and the School Act enshrine the right to equitable access to education, and further prescribe non-discrimination. These rights have not been suspended during a pandemic, and are applicable no matter what type of schooling your child will attend this year. See our Resources page https://bcedaccess.com/resources/ for lots of information, and this post for a basic starter guide: Advocacy and Conflict Resolution
For a more detailed and thorough advocacy resource, see Inclusion BC’s Parent Handbook:
Try to have a positive attitude about school for your child’s sake. Talk about things you think will be exciting for them, and support them to think of things that they are excited about. They may have worries they need to discuss as well and you can help them to work through these and offer reassurance that you will be there to support them every day. Especially now, you may both have concerns about the pandemic and how it may impact school, and your family. Try to share your calm with them, and reach out to the school for counselling support if needed.
This is what the Ministry of Education is doing about mental health for children and youth. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you’ll see some resources that children and youth can access: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/erase/mental-health
Your child deserves to participate fully in all activities and educational programming being offered to all other students, and to the supports they need to learn in whatever modality you’ve chosen for your family. For support and more information now and throughout the year, go here
to request access to our private Facebook group, if you’re a BC parent/guardian of a student with disabilities or complex learners. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and of course attend our annual advocacy conference from Sep 22-26 https://advocon.bcedaccess.com/
We hope your child has a great start to the new school year, and we especially want you to know that you’re not alone, BCEdAccess is run by parents, for parents and we are here for each other through it all. Join us.