Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services

There are many uncertainties involved in bringing students back to Alabama’s public-school campuses in August. The process becomes even more complicated for students with disabilities.

Fortunately for these students and their families, the staff of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) has continued to create and alter plans to make their return as seamless as possible.

During a recent update, State School Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey recognized the importance of having an effective strategy for students with disabilities.

“That individualized plan has to drive the decisions that are made for that child,” he said.

Mackey said the school system has been working with medical professionals and departments like ADRS to establish safe methods for physical and occupational therapy.

“Fortunately, we’ve had a little bit of time to think through some of those and to get better answers,” he said.

Students will have the option of returning to school in a traditional setting, virtually or a combination of both, and Vocational Rehabilitation Service (VRS) staff are prepared for each situation, Statewide Transition Coordinator Tasha Harrison-Betts said.

“For our students attending in the traditional method, we plan to continue business as usual while continuing to practice social distancing and adhering to school system regulations,” she said. “As schools closed their doors due to the pandemic, our services did not stop. We only adjusted our method. Counselors have been very involved with potentially eligible and transition students.

“They have attended Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings through virtual platforms at the request of case managers. They have also maintained contact with students, parents, school partners and community rehab partners via phone, email and secure virtual platforms.”

Harrison-Betts said school systems are developing and plans for what the school year will look like and they are diligently working to ensure VRS has a method for service delivery conducive to each system.

Students who have elected virtual academic training will continue to have access to pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) and transition services through virtual means whenever possible. Providers have developed curriculum that has been approved for provision to potentially eligible and VRS participants in classroom settings.

Many of these training modules can be provided virtually as well since they are delivered in a HIPPA-compliant platform. Other options are being explored including service delivery at facilities in small groups where virtual or on-campus service provision is not an option.

“As we continue to receive information from school systems, we will put every measure in place to work with our partners for the best method for our students,” Betts said.

Like VRS, the Children’s Rehabilitation Service (CRS) program has continued to work with students throughout school closures and summer vacation, according to its assistant director, Kim McLaughlin.

“CRS staff continue to participate in IEP meetings when requested by the family and invited by the school,” she said. “In May, at the end of the school term, CRS participated in IEPs through Zoom invitation from the school or through conference calls. It is likely that CRS staff will continue to participate in this same way as long as COVID-19 poses a health threat. However, the meeting type preference of each school district will certainly be considered, as well.”

Many uncertainties remain as start dates for school districts across the state approach. However, one constant remains: the willingness of ADRS programs to adapt and provide the services needed for students with disabilities.

The Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services is the state agency whose mission is to enable Alabama’s children and adults with disabilities to achieve their maximum potential.