Preparing for the 2020-21 School Year

The back-to-school season is typically an exciting time for children and families. But amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the new school year may be unusually challenging and full of uncertainty.

This eGuide discusses some of the adjustments that school districts are making as they prepare to re-open (either in person or online). It then explores ways you can prepare for those adjustments, including how to make tough decisions about whether and how your child will attend school in the fall..

Understand the school’s current plans for the 2020-21 school year.

As the start of the new school year draws near, be sure you understand your school’s re-opening plans. Keep in mind that plans to re-open may change at any time as the pandemic continues to unfold, so it’s a good idea to check your school or district website often.

Learning and attendance models are likely to look quite different from state to state, district to district, or even school to school this year. Depending on a number of factors specific to your community, your child’s school district may decide to begin the school year:

  • in person
  • remotely
  • using a combination of in-person and remote learning

Additionally, some districts may decide to place the choice about how to attend school in the hands of families by offering both an in-person and remote learning option simultaneously.

Identify your school’s current plan, including information about safety protocols, specific plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and relevant dates (such as decision deadlines, the first day of school, or meetings between parents and staff) before moving forward.

Decide how your child will attend school.

If you are unsure about whether to send your child to school in person during the fall of 2020, consider listening to the Exceptional Parenting Podcast episode, “Should You Send Your Child to School During the Pandemic?,” which offers a set of practical suggestions on how to make the “best” decision for your family.

Additionally, the Back to School Decision Making Tool may also be helpful.

It can help to remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision during this crisis. Every household faces unique circumstances. Therefore, the “right” decision is the one that most closely meets the safety priorities and needs of your child and family.

Learn about homeschooling, if you are considering this option.

If you have decided to consider homeschooling as an option for your child (aside from the remote learning options provided by your child’s school), learn about the logistics – including how it works, how to identify the legal requirements in your state, how to explore the potential costs, and what some of the most common questions are – by exploring the eGuide called Homeschooling Your Child.

Then, watch the on-demand webinar called At-Home Learning: Advice from the Homeschooling Community.

Organize documents related to your child’s learning.

Whether your child will be attending school in person or remotely, try and find time to sort and organize all the documents related to your child’s learning. If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan, for instance, review the goals, supports, and services planned.

If your child did not receive all of the services or supports outlined in his or her plan last spring, consider making specific notes about what was missed, listing your concerns, and pulling together emails, letters, or other correspondence with the school that has been exchanged since the onset of the pandemic. Gathering these records will be helpful as you and the rest of your child’s IEP / 504 team determine the best path forward.

If you are unsure of how the pandemic has impacted your child’s special education services, check out the on-demand webinar, Education Survival Kit for Parents: Pandemic Edition.

Set up (online) meetings or appointments.

After reviewing all the documents related to your child’s learning, determine whether there is anyone you need to meet with (likely online) before or at the start of the school year.

If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), decide whether you need to reconvene the IEP Team to discuss any needed changes. This may be an important step to take if your child missed services during the spring and has regressed and/or will learn remotely in the fall. Be sure to discuss with the team how your child’s IEP will be delivered during the 2020-21 school year.

Consider scheduling a meeting or contacting any educators or other school professionals who will be working with your child. Share any tips or recommendations you have about what works or helps your child be successful. You may also want to share specifically what does not work or any experiences that have been especially challenging for your child during the pandemic.

Finally, if your school is allowing school-sponsored extracurriculars, and your child plays sports, find out what information s/he will need to participate and plan to follow up, as needed. For instance, does your child need a physical? If so, don’t forget to line up an appointment with your child’s pediatrician so that your child can start on time. Additionally, be sure you understand any new athletic procedures that be may in place as a result of the pandemic (such as new safety protocol or contracts, waivers, or paperwork that may need to be signed). Keep in mind that there may be new rules in place for spectators, too.

Set expectations at home for the new school year.

If you’re like most families, you’ve probably relaxed daily schedules and structured routines over the last several months. Things like bedtime, alarm clocks, or packing lunches might be a distant memory by now.

However your child will be attending school during the coming months, consider what you would like each school day to look like from start to finish and see what you can do to create it.

If your child is attending school in person, it may be helpful to brush up on morning and bedtime routines.

If your child is attending school remotely, talk to him or her about the expectations that will be in place (e.g., bedtimes, chores, schoolwork) as s/he prepares for and starts the school year online. Many schools offering remote learning programs this year will have highly structured school days and online classes that include specific start and end times. Others will offer schedules that are flexible; if this is the case, and you’d like to provide your child more structure, this Daily Schedule for School and Daycare Closures may help.

Review grade-level expectations.

Explore your school’s website to find out what your child will be learning this school year.

By understanding the teacher’s and school’s goals, you can begin to prepare yourself and your child for the work (and level of difficulty) ahead during the school year. After you review the information, you may feel fairly certain that your child will require extra help in math, for instance. Consider notifying his or her teacher as soon as possible to determine how extra help may be offered during remote learning and/or how your child’s progress will be assessed.

You may also consider inquiring about tutors and other resources available for additional support.

Determine a transportation plan, if your child is attending in person.

Due to physical distancing requirements, busing may be limited or schedules may be altered in many districts. Check your school district’s website to determine what busing options will be available for your child at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

If busing is limited in your area, schools may ask parents to walk with or drive their children to school, if/when possible, in order to reserve seats for children who don’t have other options.

If your child will be riding a bus – or any form of public transportation – to school, make sure s/he understands the rules and what safety protocol should be followed, such as wearing a face-covering or maintain physical distance. It’s a good idea to make sure s/he has plenty of hand sanitizer available to use during and after the ride. If possible, also provide him or her with disinfectant wipes to wipe down the seat or other high-touch surfaces.

Depending on your child’s age, you may wish to do a practice run of the transportation plan before the first day of school, especially if you plan to use public transportation. Don’t forget to also review any “typical” safety rules or procedures that were in place before the pandemic!

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