Looking back always gives me good perspective to look forward. While 2020 was a difficult year in so many ways, there are many positive accomplishments that should be celebrated in the world of deafblind education and research.
This spring I was part of a team of researchers at the University of Washington Bothell’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) that analyzed district and charter response to school closures due to the pandemic.
Also this spring at CRPE, Sivan Tuchman and I reviewed state websites, looking for what support states were providing districts related to school closures. In our blog: Federal Special Education Guidance is Clear; Now States Must Step Up we wrote about the variation we saw in what states provided.
As most of the special education field struggled to provide services and support to students, the field of deafblindness really came together. One of spring’s bright spots was how the field innovated, collaborated, and problem solved to meet the needs of our students. I wrote a blog about the collaboration for Educating All Learners Alliance, which is a great website to find COVID specific special education resources. Check it out if you haven’t already.
COVID-19 has taken a toll on our entire community. This spring, American Federation for the Blind published findings from a study that examined the impact on students who are visually impaired, their families and teachers.This is a very long and comprehensive report but here's an excerpt about the Role of Professionals:
Amidst all the COVID work research I was involved in, as a special education parent, I was also living this each and every day, finding ways to make it work. In case you missed it, I found ways to share my story in the following blogs and articles, hoping it would help others. Sharing our personal story was a highlight of 2020. Because of the COVID education research I was involved in, I was able to find ways to share my parent voice (in addition to my researcher voice), at a time when that voice was not out there. Here are links to some of these articles in case you missed them.
As we approached summer, I continued to look for any glimmer of mention of special education in school closure plans - of which there was very little. I became increasingly worried that no one was talking about parents.
As a result CRPE launched parent specific research related to COVID. In June I had the pleasure of interviewing parents about their special education experiences and Paul Hill and I wrote a series of blogs about these interviews:
Also this summer at CRPE, we published COVID response case studies of five charter schools. These schools were part of a previous special education research study - schools that had been recognized for their positive outcomes for students with disabilities. What we found from these schools is that relationships matter more than ever before. You can find more about the case studies and more in the blog and the research synthesis: Any school can start building the key ingredients for effective special education.
This summer our team of researchers at CRPE looked to fall reopening. Along with a large group of colleagues, I analyzed district reopening plans, hopeful that there would be more mention of special education than we saw in spring and summer. But, sadly this was not the case, as Robin Lake and I wrote in a blog: Special education must no longer be an afterthought.
Still today, special education services and supports are unevenly implemented and special education experiences vary greatly depending on the school or district you are in and the individual family situation. Accessibility continues to be an issue and many students who would benefit from in-person services, are still not receiving them.
I hope all this changes for the second half of the school year but with the virus spreading so quickly in so many areas, this may not be possible.
We're making progress in building partnerships between parents, educators and administrators. I'm looking forward to continuing my work to improve the quality of education for students who are deafblind through Lane of Inquiry in 2021.
Lanya (Lane) McKittrick is the Chair of the Board of the Usher Syndrome Coalition, founder of the Hear See Hope Foundation, and deafblind education researcher and founder of Lane of Inquiry. Lane received her PhD in Special Education at the University of Northern Colorado. Her research, advocacy and family support work are rooted in her personal experience as a mom to four sons, including two who have Usher Syndrome, the leading genetic cause of deafblindness.