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November 10, 2020
Dear Oakland Community,
I am writing with an update on our special education programs and the adjustments that have been made to better serve our students.
We are trying to meet targeted, unique needs with specific strategies
As a department, we have tried to be innovative and move quickly to meet the needs of our students. We heard about barriers and we tried to respond. We listened to families. A couple of our larger systemwide changes are:
  • Learning Pods:  Our learning support pods will be welcoming students the week of November 16 at multiple campuses across OUSD. Students were referred for pods by their Special Education teachers due to skill loss across multiple Individual Education Program (IEP) goal areas. Pods are not designed to be school, which will still take place during the regular, virtual school day. Our Pods will be held in the afternoon, providing additional support specific to address learning loss.
  • Student Assessment:  Student assessment is the process for evaluating a student’s need for special education services. Due to the shelter-in-place and school closures, we have a backlog of student assessments that need to be completed. To ensure the safety of staff and students, we will gradually ramp up the number of  in-person initial and triennial IEP assessments we complete. We will be working with contracted staff and OUSD volunteers for the duration of the current MOU between the OEA and District to reduce our backlog of assessments.
In addition to the broader initiatives above, we also have been working on a number of ways to meet individual student needs:
  • Individual Tutoring:  When a Special Education teacher has seen profound skill loss toward one or more academic goal domains for a student receiving support in a mild-moderate program, the Special Education Department has offered a number of hours of individualized tutoring to support students to recover the progress lost during distance learning.
  • Intensive Individual Services:  Since the onset of the school year, the family of each student with Intensive Individual Services indicated in their IEP was offered the option of virtual or in-home dedicated services with a behavior technician.
  • Learning Loss Mitigation Home Services:  For students with significant learning loss of functional and behavioral skills, we have offered in-person behavior technician supports.
  • Night school:  We started a series of one hour workshops for families focused on building routines and patterns, limits, and new behaviors.
Getting student learning materials ready for distribution.
Safety and equity drive our decisions
In all of the services above, we are using equity to determine which students are being served first. For example, in prioritizing assessments, we looked at both how long each student has been waiting for assessment, but also the student and how difficult it might be for them to be successful in distance learning. In terms of safety, our in-person services are focused on a small number of students who have experienced the most profound skill regression, so we can ensure that our safety protocols can be fully and consistently implemented. In addition, we will be ensuring all staff working in our learning pods have initial and ongoing COVID-19 testing as an added precaution to support the safety of those students and adults returning to our campuses.
The importance of strong labor partners
We also have a wonderful labor partner in AFSCME. Their president Melisha Linzie and her team have been very student- and solutions-oriented as we look to address complicated issues.  We appreciate their willingness to sit down and creatively discuss how to best serve students while ensuring staff safety.
Sharing a couple of appreciations.
This has been a very challenging time and I wanted to share a couple of appreciations:
  • I really want to appreciate all of our families for their patience, advocacy, and everything they are doing to support their children during this time.
  • The Community Advisory Council has been meeting monthly to plan meetings and help voice parent concerns.  Had high attendance - helpful in getting perspectives and identifying needs.
  • Our coordinators, instructional coaches and office staff have spent countless hours helping plan these initiatives and really shifted their jobs in a masterful way to meet the needs of our students. 
Next steps
With all of our programs, we are dedicated to collecting data, reviewing it as a team, and making the necessary adjustments. We are beginning instructional rounds to better see what is working and what is not. 

We will continue to monitor student progress and skill maintenance. As we receive more information about what is working, we look forward to being able to expand our successful programs and improve the ones that need it. 
Please share your thoughts on this message
In Community,

Jennifer Blake
Executive Director
Special Education
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