APS board eyeing options for special-needs students

DOWNTOWN AKRON — During the Sept. 28 virtual meeting of the Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education, Tammy Brady, the district’s director of special education, presented three potential learning options for students with special needs.
The first option includes remote academics and on-site related services — like speech, occupational or physical therapies — at an APS building with specifically scheduled times and dates.
The second option is a blended learning model, with three shortened days on-site in a school building with specially designed instruction and related services, as well as two days remote using Google Classroom and Google Meet video-communication service along with learning packets to reinforce and support the on-site instruction.
The third option — and the unofficial preferred model of both the board and Superintendent David James — combines remote academics and on-site afterschool services. In this model, students with special needs will come to a school building for about two hours each week after 3 p.m. to receive support for their Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals.
According to Brady, there are 3,903 students with disabilities in the district, from prekindergarten students through high school seniors.
“Of those, we have 448 low-incidence students, and those are the students with the most severe disabilities,” Brady said. “These are students that might be served in, but not exclusively, a self-contained classroom, such as multiple-disability classroom, a classroom for students with autism, and that would be predominantly the students we would be looking at.”
Compiled by Brady and her team, these options were created in response to concerns shared by parents of special-needs students at the Sept. 14 meeting. With APS students returning to school 100 percent online for the first nine weeks of the school year, these parents said their children with special needs had difficulty with online learning and were overwhelmed by the technology.
“We know that we are anxious to have our students back in school, and they are in need of their services,” Brady said.
She said the next step is to survey the families and staff to determine which teachers and students are ready to return to the classroom, and then determine when this will go into effect.
“It will take us at least four weeks,” Brady said. “There are multiple things involved. We have to find out how many students are coming. We have to look at what our staffing is and what locations we’ll be able to use, as well as child nutrition … and then transportation is also an additional factor. It’s kind of a heavy lift to make happen very quickly.”
James added as the district comes to the end of the first nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year, the administration and board also have to think about the potential blended-learning return of regular education students to their classrooms.
“I would certainly like to see us dive into getting people back as quickly as possible, at least phasing it in,” James said. “[Students with special needs are] a very delicate population, and we probably need to do that first. … It’s a heavy lift, but it’s not impossible.”
James is expected to present a school reopening plan to the board Oct. 12 regarding the next nine weeks of the school year, and the board is expected to make a decision no later than Oct. 26.
As for the future of APS winter sports, the superintendent said the district has not yet received guidelines from the Ohio High School Athletic Association about how to proceed with swimming, bowling, wrestling, basketball and indoor track. He said the information might be available to share at the Oct. 12 board meeting.
Board President Patrick Bravo said the board has begun the superintendent search process to find a replacement for James, whose last day will be June 30, 2021. James has served the APS District for nearly 30 years, with 12 of them as superintendent. More information will be available for consideration at the next board meeting.
Also, during the board meeting, James presented a resolution to the board, which was passed unanimously, in remembrance of the Rev. Diana Swoope, who died Sept. 18. The senior pastor of The Arlington Church of God in Akron also was the founder of the Arlington Christian Academy and the Summer Educational Employment Program.
He also spoke about the death of Jane Walker Snider on Sept. 22. She was executive director of the Akron Council on World Affairs and founder of the Global Scholars program, which brought foreign diplomats to meet with students at Ellet and Buchtel community learning centers (CLC) about world events.
He also shared news of the death of Betty Moore on Sept. 18. She was a member of the child nutrition staff at Hyre CLC and was an APS employee for 27 years.
The next APS virtual board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 12 at 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit bit.ly/2V8oNVk.

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