If you are a parent, chances are you have spent a lot of time wondering how, where, and when your child will be educated for the 2021-2022 school year. The question on every parent’s mind is whether to send your child back to a bricks-and-mortar school (if your child’s school reopens), opt for your school’s emergency remote learning program, homeschool your child, or enroll your child in a full-time online school.
Every school, district, and state has its own strategy for reopening schools. Some schools and districts plan to allow students back in person, full-time. Others are planning staggered schedules, where students attend school in person for several days and learn remotely on other days. And other schools are starting the school year entirely remotely, with families supervising online learning at home.
But the truth is: there are actually big differences between these three types of learning environments. Understanding these differences can help parents set expectations, ask questions, and better consider different school choice options.
As parents consider their options for this upcoming school year, there are some key terms parents should know. There’s actually a big difference between remote or virtual learning, full-time online school, and homeschooling!
At National School Choice Week, we’ve been providing practical information about these types of school choice options for the last ten years. During this challenging time for parents across the U.S., our goal is to help even more families discover the options available for their children, so that they can identify the school or learning environment that best meets their children’s unique needs.
Remote or Virtual Learning
When bricks-and-mortar schools and school districts talk about remote or virtuallearning in response to the pandemic, they are usually talking about students learning from home, via computer, using curricula and coursework developed by their child’s bricks-and-mortar school.
Schools and school districts have developed different systems for delivering this remote or virtual learning, which is usually administered by teachers and school staff who already work for the schools or districts. Some schools and districts are using platforms like Zoom to administer this learning, while others are contracting with online learning providers to develop a more seamless experience.
The quality of these remote or virtual learning systems varies from school to school and district to district. While some families gave their local schools high marks for their early efforts at implementing remote or virtual learning this year, many others were far from pleased. Recent newspaper articles criticizing “online learning” usually describe challenges with remote or virtual learning systems that were established quickly at the onset of the pandemic.
The rapid, pandemic-related switch from in-person instruction to remote or online instruction in schools and districts is best defined as emergency remote or virtual learning or crisis remote or virtual learning. Will the quality of emergency remote or online learning improve this fall? That remains to be seen.
There’s a world of difference between emergency remote or virtual learning and full-time, tuition-free online schooling. These schools are tuition-free public schools that, every year, educate 300,000 students on a full-time basis across more than 30 states and the District of Columbia. These schools are created by states, school districts, or established as public charter schools, and they existed long before COVID-19.
Students enrolled in full-time online schooling will find qualified teachers who are specifically trained to deliver instruction using new technology. Curriculum and lessons align to state education standards, and full-time, online public schools must meet all state education laws. They must also develop and implement Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for children with exceptional learning needs.
These schools often combine flexible schedules so that students are not sitting in front of computers for eight hours a day with regular, one-on-one student-teacher communication and opportunities for students to collaborate with each other on projects.
There’s another important characteristic of full-time, online schools, too. These schools almost always provide students with free equipment, such as computers. Many also provide families with free Internet access, too. This means that if you have several children, they won’t be fighting over who gets to use the family computer.
For families who are uncomfortable or unhappy with their school’s emergency remote or virtual learning systems, enrolling your child in a full-time, online public school might be a better fit.
It feels like most, if not all parents are homeschooling their kids these days, right? Well, not exactly. Certainly, there’s a historic level of at-home learning going on, but just because students are literally at home, that doesn’t mean that they are homeschoolers.
It may feel like most, if not all parents are homeschooling their kids these days. But despite a historic level of at-home learning going on, just because students are literally at home, that doesn’t mean that they are homeschoolers.
Homeschooling is not only a style of instruction, but it’s also a legal term, too, one that means that parents have taken full responsibility for educating their children in the home. Parents in every state have the right to homeschool their children, but each state regulates homeschooling differently.
For example, in 40 states, parents who want to officially homeschool their children must either officially unenroll their children from their current school or file a notice of intent with a school district or the state, to begin the homeschooling process. There are other rules, too, and they vary by state. Some states require homeschoolers to teach specific subjects, and others require homeschoolers to take annual standardized tests.
But just because parents have taken full responsibility for their children’s education doesn’t mean that they are “on their own.” Far from it! There are more resources available for homeschoolers than ever before, from fully-developed curricula to supplemental online homeschool courses to local homeschooling groups (often called cooperatives, collaboratives, or now, micro-schools or learning pods) that can help.
So, what’s the bottom line? There are enormous differences between emergency remote or virtual learning, full-time online schooling, and homeschooling. Understanding these differences will help families unlock and discover education options for their children that they might not know existed. If you’re considering these options, please know that each state sets its own policies. School choice is a state and local, not federal, matter. Most importantly, it’s about finding a learning environment that will give your child the best chance to learn, succeed, and be happy, even in the middle of a pandemic.
In making this transition, schools are working through what online learning looks like and how to include all students. Students with disabilities have services that are guaranteed to be delivered by law included in their IEP. How can schools effectively provide special education via online learning? [bctt tweet=”During the time of COVID-19, there’s an expansion of free online resources available to educate students with disabilities. #TeacherTipsCovid19 #ParentsAreTheNewTeachers” username=”schoolchoicewk”]
As a former special education teacher, I know firsthand how much work it takes to keep all the balls in the air on a day-to-day basis. Shifting that entire process online is a monumental task! Here at National School Choice Week, we have gathered resources into one spot to help with this transition. Of course, we are not legal experts, and the guidance listed herein may not be exhaustive as the situation is evolving on a daily basis. Our goal is to provide a helpful jumping off point for educators as they tackle this new challenge.
Like teachers across the country, administrators are also trying to figure out how to navigate online learning and special education The U. S. Department of Education has created a central website where they are housing all of the information that is being pushed out to schools.
On March 21, 2020 the Department of Education released a Supplemental Fact Sheet about serving children with disabilities. Here are a few key points that answered questions I had when thinking about transitioning service delivery to a virtual model:
How do we deliver instruction? – This document reiterates that all school districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), however, delivery of FAPE in the current environment may include special education and related services being conducted through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or telephonically.
What do virtual modifications look like? – Modifications (such as extended time, videos with captioning, and accessible reading materials) and many speech or language services can be given through video conferencing.
What happens if we can’t provide instruction? – If schools are unable to provide services due to the global pandemic, the individual IEP teams will need to make the determination if, and to what extent, students are owed compensatory (make-up) services once school resumes.
We have IEP/Evaluation due dates coming up – what do we do?– Additionally, this document provides guidance regarding IDEA Timelines and possible extensions to timelines during school closure to COVID-19.
Click on the circles in the graphic below to see the different guidance documents that have been published regarding serving children with disabilities.
Just like the U.S. Department of Education, each state’s education department has their own guidelines for the schools in their state for special education during COVID-19. While all states have to follow the federal guidelines that have been released, they also are providing specifics to their educators.
For example, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has released an Exceptional Children Division Update informing their schools to keep a log of services that are not provided (with dates) and conduct IEP Team meetings through alternate means of communication. Regarding instruction, if the students continue to be given direct instruction by an EC teacher through online mediums it is unlikely compensatory education will be required. If the school determines that they will continue learning through packets of work without direct instruction from trained staff then compensatory instruction will be needed (even if the packets are based on IEP goals). This guidance expands on the information being provided by the federal government and provides specifics for NC educators.
Many states have housed information regarding serving students with disabilities on their websites. We have gone through and found where that information is located for each of the 50 states.
Click on your state in the map below to see what your state guidelines are!
For instance, Virginia Virtual Academy is one school who is already providing public education online. VAVA is a tuition-free, online public school that provides a personalized course program, taught by certified teachers, and a vibrant school community. They provide their online learning students with disabilities instruction from special education teachers according to their IEP. Related services, if required, are provided in a virtual therapy room.
This presentation from the Alabama State Department of Education Virtual Schools Webinar offers many examples of what specially designed instruction (SDI) could look like in the virtual setting. They make suggestions such as: using virtual meetings to provide instruction, the use of verbal/picture/visual prompts & cues, teaching relaxation & breathing techniques, and counseling. Do you have a student with social skills needs? They suggest using social stories to show examples and generate responses.
Importantly, one consideration to keep in mind is confidentiality. Whatever route you and your school choose to continue to provide instruction to students with disabilities, make sure that it maintains student data privacy.
You can also have technology provide accommodations for you as you navigate online learning and special education!
Many devices, including Mac/iPad, Windows, Android, and Chromebook, provide digital modifications that can help your students access the text that is on the screen. Capti is a Text to Speech Anywhere program (with a free account) that accommodates those with special needs and provides reading accommodations to all. As a bonus, Capti integrates with many of the LMS systems you are already using (Google Classroom, Schoology, Canvas, and more)!
There are over 30 Chrome web extensions that can assist students with accessing their instruction. The extensions help with text to speech (read aloud of text), readability (remove distractions, change fonts, color overlays), reading comprehension (dictionary, summarizing, auto highlighting), focus (remove distractions, provide pre-determined breaks), and navigation (click-free browsing, keyboard shortcuts).
Tips and Tricks
One thing that continues to inspire me is the way that educators band together to help each other out. The education community has pulled together to make sure that all classrooms making the transition have what they need by sharing resources, advice, and providing encouragement. Here are some articles and resources that have been shared about effective online learning and special education services:
Are you already providing special education services virtually? Have you run across a helpful resource while transitioning online? Email us your tips on online learning and special education: [email protected]
The AAC Language Lab offer real-life solutions in support of language development for students who use augmentative and alternative communication. Interactive materials have been designed for Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs), Educators and Parents. With over 50 years of experience in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) PRC-Saltillo is pleased to offer this unique online resource.
Free Services Offered: Free 2-month subscription
How to Use: Create an account, under the My Account tab go to Purchase for Myself and select Free 2 Month Trial under the Language Lab purchase options.
This is an ongoing compilation of free resources available online, and this document will be continually updated with new links. New resources will be added to the TOP of the appropriate category for easy visibility. Here are the categories of resources: Temporary Free Resources, ASL Storybook Readings by age, ASL Storytelling, Basic ASL & Vocabulary, Deaf Culture, Preschool – Grade 8 Breakdowns, ASL Songs, Science, Social Studies, ELA, and For Parents.
Free Services Offered: Ongoing free list of resources.
AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom offers a range of resources designed for AAC implementation. The materials provided can be used to teach and model core words throughout the day. You will find materials such as printable core word displays, planners for teaching core words during common activities, Core Word of the Week planners and displays, and resources & references for AAC implementation. There is also a section of the website dedicated to using core words at home.
Attainment is offering free web-based subscriptions for their research-based literacy programs: ELSB (Early Literacy Skills Builder), ELSB for Older Students, ERSB (Early Reading Skills Builder), Access Language Arts, and Access Language Arts: WRITE. Digital content retrieval is available through the new Attainment Hub website.
Free Services Offered: Free, 90-day web-based subscriptions for the literacy programs.
To help educators, parents, and learners during this time of need, the Tobii Dynavox team has gathered their resources and created Coronavirus materials within them. There are resources for Communicating about Coronavirus: topic pages for Snap Core First, activities and resources, videos to get started, and Hospital Intensive Care Unit Communication Resources. You can also access these resources: Pathways (free Snap Core First companion App), 30-day free trial to Boardmaker Online and Boardmaker Activities-to-Go (free, ready-made activities).
Free Resources Offered: Communication Materials, Activities to go, and a free trial to Boardmaker.
Capti is a text to speech anywhere platform. You can sign up for a free account that has the following features: text to speech for reading; speech tracking word by word; fonts, colors, masking, etc.; cross-device sync; screen-reader accessibility; advanced text navigation; and offline use. A Chrome Browser Extension applies these features to any webpage and allows the import of articles/text/images/documents to Capti. You can save to Capti from links, phone, computer, Drive, Dropbox, Bookshare, Project Gutenberg as rich text format.
Free Services Offered: Free Account
How to Use: Visit the Capti website and sign up for a personal use account today.
The challenge of the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities is to address learner variability by conducting research to make online learning more accessible, engaging, and effective for students with disabilities, for whom traditional forms of education have been only moderately successful and the precipitous growth in online instruction threatens to exclude. To address these issues, the Center will assume a leadership role in conducting research and building a network of research collaborators representing a wide array of disciplines whose expertise impacts learner outcomes.
Free Resources Offered: Publications and Resources (UDL Scan Tool, VPAT List, State Policy Guide, and Resource Documents)
This website offers a list of Chrome extensions for students with special needs. The blog lists over 30 Chrome web extensions that can assist students in five main categories. These are: text to speech, readability, reading comprehension, focus, and navigation.
Free Services Offered: Free list of Chrome Extensions
Double Time Docs is an online software that helps you write your Pediatric Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy evaluation reports very quickly. You simply answer multiple choice, fill-in and short answer questions and your fully-written report is generated automatically. Double Time Docs recently started offering access to their software completely free for the 2020-21 school year for school district and private clinics.
Free Services Offered: Free use of the platform; unlimited credits for schools; 3 free credits for individuals (more available upon request).
Didax has a whole host of virtual manipulatives available online to enhance at-home learning. Additionally, if you want to use the tools within your online learning platform, they can be embedded using the iframe command. You can download the iframe texts for each of the tools by following the link on their website.
Free Services Offered: Always Free!
How to Use: Visit the Didax website today to start using these tools!
List of resources to help special education students and families during home learning. Resources are available in the following categories: visuals & social stories, parent guides, language arts & reading, math, additional academic resources, and social skills/social emotional skills.
The Teachers Pay Teachers account Curriculum for Autism, run by Kristen who is a single mom to a young adult with autism, has a free guide to starting home learning for parents of kids & teens with autism. This guide provides support and reassurance as parents start having to educate their child/children at home.
Helperbird is a browser extension that gives you features to help make websites accessible. The extension includes features such as dyslexic fonts, an immersive reader layout, changing of font sizes, screenshots, reader mode, Google Translate (over 23 languages), color blindness underline, and color blindness text stroke. Works on Chrome, Firefox, and Edge.
Free Services Offered: Free download of the extension.
PresenceLearning is a teletherapy platform that has been designed by clinicians for clinicians to serve K-12 students with special needs. There is a full therapy command center, dynamic camera and video modes to focus on multiple types of intervention, synchronized collaborative work-space, and an evidence-based/user-generated content library. PresenceLearning has made their teletherapy platform available for onsite school clinicians to continue serving students at home during school closures.
How to Use: Fill out the form to schedule a conversation about how they can help during COVID-19 related school closures.
Readtopia is a special education instructional program designed for teachers who work with middle and high school students with autism and other complex needs. It serves as an integrated comprehensive reading curriculum across several domains of study including ELA, Math, Social Studies, Life Skills, and Science. Readtopia uses Integrated Thematic Units to bring together all subject areas and skill development and provides graphic novels that are written at seven levels (but the cover is the same!) to help you differentiate.
Free Resources Offered: Free Mini Thematic Unit (one month of content)
Pat Noonan is a special education teacher from Methuen, MA, who has launched a YouTube channel dedicated to putting out weekly videos for students with autism and intellectual disabilities. The videos incorporate Boardmaker pictures into a familiar TV show format that students enjoy (think Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, etc). Each video comes with 3 companion worksheets that are linked in the video description.
Free Services Offered: Free videos and downloadable worksheets.
How to Use: Visit Pat’s YouTube Channel to watch the videos, the links to the worksheets are in the video description!
This site is the home for a remote learning experience for students with moderate and severe disabilities. Until this current crisis ends, the site will provide quality lessons and activities for teachers and parents to utilize. There are currently 3 modules available, each lasting for 2 instructional weeks. Should there still be a need the next series of modules will be uploaded March 30, 2020.
Free Services Offered: Three free two-week modules teaching Maps and Globes, Levels of Organization: an Introduction to Biology, and Because of Winn Dixie
Stages Learning is giving free lessons, materials, activity sheets, data tracking sheets, behavior management tools, and a basic overview of how to use the system to those who are working with children with autism or other special needs at home. These materials are a sampling of lessons and are 100% free to families.
Free Services Offered: ARIS Emergency Home Education Program Overview, Language Builder ARIS Manual – Abbreviated for Home Use, 34 Downloadable Lesson Plans for Early Autism Education, and 56 Language Builder Picture Cards for Download.
Tar Heel Reader is a collection of free, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a wide range of topics. Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces. These include touch screens, the IntelliKeys with custom overlays, and 1 to 3 switches (instructions are available online). You can also write your own books using pictures from the huge collection in the platform or that you upload. The website is available in multiple languages.
From the Council for Exceptional Children: “You never stop advocating for them, and neither do we. As you work to be there for your students while out of the classroom, find tips and resources for delivering special education online in TEACHING Exceptional Children. Topics include making online learning accessible, considerations, comprehension, support, special educators’ roles, designing online learning, and more.”
Free Services Offered: This journal issue is open access and available for free through April 18.
The Social Express is a company focused on Social-Emotional Learning and Career Path Exploration. The platform contains interactive lessons that allow users to safely practice skills needed to manage real-life social situations. The fun and easy to use program helps drive learning and success in and out of the classroom.
Free Services Offered: Social Express and Cool School are free through April 15th, 2020.
TouchMath is a multisensory math program that makes critical math concepts accessible for students who struggle to understand grade-level content. The program is committed to maximizing student potential through its delivery of hands-on math programs, cultivating success with individuals of all abilities and learning styles. To help keep students on track, TouchMath is providing free resources. These include: Workbooks (organized by grade level and topic, 56 activity sheets in each), Free Stuff page has downloadable samples, Desktop TouchLines free to download, and all TouchMath Apps are free in the App Store for iPad and Google Play.
Free Services Offered: Workbooks, downloads, TouchLines, and Apps
Vizzle is digital and engaging standards-aligned content for all learners. As the teacher, you can quickly assign standards-aligned content from a variety of subjects. Vizzle automatically collects data to help you determine student proficiency of individual learning targets. Plus, there are teacher-driven student profiles with gamified progress pages and animated reinforcers to motivate and engage students. Vizzle was created based on research demonstrating the efficacy of an interactive visual language approach to educating students with special needs.
Rebecca Collopy is the school celebrations assistant for National School Choice Week, helping to raise awareness about the amazing things our participants do throughout the year and during National School Choice Week. She previously worked in both a traditional public school and public charter school setting as a special education teacher and special education program coordinator. During her teaching experience she got to witness firsthand the impact school choice can have on a student’s education.
[bctt tweet=”School closed? Staying healthy at home? Learn about free educational resources your child can use from home.” url=”https://schoolchoiceweek.com/as-new-coronavirus-spreads-know-your-homeschool-and-online-learning-options/” via=”no”]
How will Coronavirus impact my child’s school?
The answer depends on where you live and what school your child attends. As of March 18, 39 states have closed schools. Your local school or school district should provide updates on their COVID-19 plans, including whether a meal distribution plan is available. In addition, this map from Education Week tracks school closures nationwide and is being updated at least twice a day.
Some families affected by COVID-19 have expressed interest in signing up for online school. Across the country, 375,000 students already attend online school in the U.S., and these options are available in more than half of U.S. states. Online schooling usually offers flexible schedules that can accommodate a variety of health needs.
I’m interested in homeschooling. How do I get started?
Every state has its own homeschooling policies. But, parents in every state have the freedom to educate their children in the home.
Some education experts anticipate that COVID-19 may generate increased interest in homeschooling. For example, Kevin Carey, vice president for education policy at New America, has said that the coronavirus could lead to “a vast unplanned experiment in mass home-schooling.”
Currently, approximately two million students in America are homeschooled. Some families have tried this outside-the-box education choice full-time and never turned back! Even if this education option isn’t your long-term plan for your family, there may be a season of life where it becomes the right fit for now.
What can I do to augment my child’s learning if school is cancelled?
Fortunately, there are more educational resources accessible from home than ever before. Here is a list of free education resources you and your student can use to continue the learning journey, even if classes are cancelled.As long as you have an internet connection, you can use these online resources to unlock hours of learning:
Khan Academy – Khan Academy offers free courses of all grade levels to help students master subjects and accelerate their learning. Through these courses, Kahn Academy allows students to personalize their learning and learn at their own pace.
PBS LearningMedia – PBS LearningMedia provides students with free lesson plans, videos, and games aligned with standards they are learning in the classroom.
TEDEd – TEDEd brings lessons to life for students through animation. TEDEd’s goal is to ignite curiosity among learners. To do this, TEDEd collects the best teacher lessons around the world. Then, it turns them into shareable animated videos for students.
PowerMyLearning Connect – PowerMyLearning Connect offers curated learning from a variety of online platforms. K-12 students can access free content in all core subjects and many electives, with the ability to choose standard aligned lessons.
BrainPOP – BrainPOP provides animated interactive lessons, quizzes, and games for core subjects and a variety of electives.
No Red Ink– No Red Ink is a free resource for online writing and grammar practice.
Lumosity – Lumosity offers free brain games to keep student minds actively engaged. For example, the games use problem solving, critical thinking, and memory to keep students on their toes and strengthen their skills.
Duolingo– Duolingo helps students keep up with foreign language skills. Duolingo offers 30+ languages so students can start learning a variety of languages that interest them. Or, students can use Duolingo to practice the foreign languages they are already learning in the classroom.
EVERFI – EVERFI offers free supplemental lessons for the whole student in areas of Finance, SEL, Health, College/Career Readiness, and related topics.
Edmentum’s Study Island for Home – Through Edmentum’s Study Island for Home, parents can access trusted K-12 programs tailored to state standards. Families can receive one year free by using the code: EdmentumSupport2020. Note that registration will require a credit card and you will see what looks like an auto-renewal, but Edmentum will not auto-renew or charge your credit card.
Carnegie Mellon University’s CS Academy – Looking to introduce your kids to Python programming? CMU CS Academy is a free online, interactive high school computer science curriculum. By signing up for a mentor account, families can access the CS0 course. This course includes about 40 hours of instruction and is intended for middle school, out-of-school programs, and summer camp settings.
[bctt tweet=”Don’t let the coronavirus stop you from learning. Find educational options you can use from home at https://schoolchoiceweek.com/as-new-coronavirus-spreads-know-your-homeschool-and-online-learning-options/.” url=”no” via=”no”]
Where can I learn more about coronavirus’ impact on K-12 education?
To get a better sense of how COVID-19 is impacting K-12 education, check out these articles:
Are you ready to celebrate effective education options for children? With 40,549 events and activities across all 50 states, National School Choice Week 2019 (January 20-26) will be the largest celebration of opportunity in education in US history. Every child deserves a great education, and school choice is something to celebrate!
40,549 independently-planned events and activities will be held during NSCW 2019
Events and activities are planned by:
What is School Choice?
Empowering parents and helping children achieve their dreams.
Every January, millions of Americans participate in events and activities during National School Choice Week. It is the world’s largest-annual celebration of opportunity in K-12 education — a time for parents to discover the education options available for their children.
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