Bookshare Summer Read-a-Thon Starts

Bookshare logoEach year, our colleagues at Bookshare encourage students to continue to read during the summer months after school is out. This year’s campaign called #AllInTogether is seeking to get students who are Bookshare members to read 200,000 books by July 31st.

Here are some of the details from Bookshare’s website:

Let’s Read 200K Together

This summer, while staying physically distant from others, why not come together virtually to share in the joy of reading? Bookshare’s #AllInTogether Summer Read-a-thon is a national campaign to share in the common bond of reading. Join Bookshare readers from around the world to escape, enjoy, and explore books for readers of every age and level. By July 31, we aim to have read 200,000 ebooks as a community.

Completed details and entry directions are on the Bookshare website…

Feds provide clarification on definition of print materials

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), Department of Education has announced a “Final notice of interpretation” regarding the definition of “print instructional materials’’ in the Individuals with Disability Education Act – IDEA regarding digital instructional materials. In this final interpretation, effective May 26, 2020, OSERS noted the “trend” toward digital materials in classrooms, a far different landscape from 2004 when IDEA was last amended and the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) was created. At that time, the vast majority of instructional materials were printed on paper and NIMAC was implemented to allow for the schools to convert printed instructional materials into specialized formats for a student with a print disability in a timely manner.

According to the announcement in the Federal Register Vol. 85, No. 101 of May 26, 2020:

“…the Department interprets the phrase ‘printed textbooks and related printed core  materials’ referred to in the definition of ‘print instructional materials’ in section 674(e)(3)(C) of IDEA (20 U.S.C. 1474(e)(3)(C)) to include digital instructional materials that comply with NIMAS, because that is the primary medium through which many textbooks and core materials are now produced.”

The full announcement in the May 26th Federal Register may be downloaded in PDF on the govinfo.gov website.

Read more about Laws and Policies related to AEM…

Survey to collect data around learning from home

The following request/announcement comes from colleague and fellow Maine educator, Jim Moulton:

COVID-19 has dramatically altered school and learning around the world. In an effort to capture, reflect, and share the unique perspectives of students and parents as they experience learning from home in Spring 2020, two brief surveys have been created. Again – our intention is to capture, reflect, and share the unique perspectives of students and parents as they experience learning from home in Spring 2020.

The stories and experiences, collected anonymously through the surveys, will help to inform and improve current and future learning-from-home strategies. Furthermore, it is our hope that students and parents may appreciate having a place and opportunity to anonymously reflect and share their experiences during this unprecedented time.

Please share broadly with learners and families involved in learning from home due to COVID-19.

Schools and districts are encouraged to use these reflective surveys system-wide, but should contact us for best options for capturing and using the data with their local community.

If you have questions about the surveys or would like to reach out to discuss, please use the following contact information:

Jim Moulton – jim@jimmoulton.org

Jim Moulton is a former elementary educator who has been working in the field of educational technology since the mid-1990s. He has worked with educators around the world, contributed to Edutopia’s Spiral Notebook blog, and spent a decade as part of Apple’s Education Team.

Dr. Damian Bebell – bebell@bc.edu

Dr. Bebell is an educational researcher at Boston Colleges’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. An example of his research can be seen at Drawing On Math and a current article Beyond Academics: Success and the Purpose of School.

Hotspot Donations and Wireless for Educators

Hotspot Donations and $10/Month Wireless for Educators

With nationwide school closures due to COVID-19, nonprofits Mobile Beacon and Digital Wish have a major hotspot donation program available that can significantly increase remote connectivity for students and teachers. Visit digitalwish.org and get up to 11 donated hotspots per school. Discounted $10/month unlimited 4G LTE internet service is provided so that teachers and students can connect and learn from anywhere in the Mobile Beacon coverage area. With a lending pool of hotspots, students-in-need can access the internet to embark on a distance learning journey during isolation.

Each hotspot has unlimited, high-speed 4G LTE mobile broadband service, and can connect up to 10 people on the internet on only one plan.

This donation program is open to all public, private, and non-profit K-12 schools and universities. For higher-need schools that exceed the cap of 11 hotspots per school, behind the scenes Digital Wish is purchasing modems that will qualify for the subsidized $10/month broadband service. If you need more, please contact: Heather Chirtea 802-379-3000, heather@digitalwish.org.

Mobile Beacon is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and the second-largest Educational Broadband Service (EBS) provider in the United States. The nonprofit has been given an EBS spectrum license by the FCC, specifically to support broadband use in schools. Nonprofit Digital Wish teamed up to make the 4G LTE hotspot device donation program available to schools throughout the United States. If your schools have connectivity issues, this subsidized service will allow you to fill the gaps with wireless hotspot donations and equitably connect all students. Schools can easily create a Hotspot Lending Pool for students needing internet access at home.

Use this link to learn how to set up a lending pool...

Please share this announcement with your colleagues who are struggling to acquire access for remote students.

 

Google Teach From Home

In response to the rapidly changing educational landscape, Google has created a new resource for teachers Teach from Home. The new web resource is available in eleven languages and provides teachers with answers to many questions and links to make additional resources found on their Google in Education service. There is a complete section on accessibility that describes how to turn on and use access features in Chrome and on Chromebooks.

The Teach From Home resource is also available to download (in PDF) for teachers who have limited access to the internet.

Google has also created a complementary resources, Learn @ Home a guide for parents and guardians.  Google partnered with learning creators to bring parents and families meaningful resources and activities. These resources are not meant to replace homework assigned by teachers, but meant to complement that work.

Use this link to visit Teach From Home

AEM Center offers series of training on accessibility in distance learning

National Center on Accessible Educational Materials logo

The AEM Center at CAST is offering free webinars on access and distance education for educators, parents, and those involved in remote instruction.

The series of six webinar, beginning on March 30, 2020 are designed to help educators who are now offering all of their lessons online – and parents – to support learners with disabilities, particularly those who use Assistive Technology (AT) and need Accessible Educational Materials (AEM).

Topics and dates are as follows:

Webinar 1: Personalizing the Reading Experience 
Monday, March 30, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 2: Creating High-Quality and Accessible Video
Monday, April 6, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 3: We’re All in This Together: Four Cs for Supporting All Learners in the COVID-19 Crisis 
Tuesday, April 7, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 4: Creating Accessible Documents and Slide Decks
Monday, April 13, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 5: We’re All in this Together: Communication and Collaboration In-the-Trenches
Tuesday, April 14, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 6: Making Math Notation Accessible
Tuesday, April 21, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

For those unable to attend the live sessions, all webinars will be recorded and archived.

Use this link to read complete program descriptions and sign up…

US Department of Education updates guidance

The United States Department of Education (USDOE), in response to apparent incorrect assumptions being made across the nation, that providing educational services to student with disabilities via “distance instruction” presents too many barriers. On March 21, 2920 the USDOE published, Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities. 

This guidance states the following:

At the outset, OCR and OSERS must address a serious misunderstanding that has recently circulated within the educational community. As school districts nationwide take necessary steps to protect the health and safety of their students, many are moving to virtual or online education (distance instruction). Some educators, however, have been reluctant to provide any distance instruction because they believe that federal disability law presents insurmountable barriers to remote education. This is simply not true. We remind schools they should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction, at the expense of students, to address matters pertaining to services for students with disabilities. Rather, school systems must make local decisions that take into consideration the health, safety, and well-being of all their students and staff.

To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), † Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction. School districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students. In this unique and ever-changing environment, OCR and OSERS recognize that these exceptional circumstances may affect how all educational and related services and supports are provided, and the Department will offer flexibility where possible. However, school districts must remember that the provision of FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or  telephonically.

The Department understands that, during this national emergency, schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided. While some schools might choose to safely, and in accordance with state law, provide certain IEP services to some students in-person, it may be unfeasible or unsafe for some institutions, during current emergency school closures, to provide hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or tactile sign language educational services. Many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online. These may include, for instance, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.

It is important to emphasize that federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. The determination of how FAPE is to be provided may need to be different in this time of unprecedented national emergency. As mentioned above, FAPE may be provided consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing special education and related
services to students. Where, due to the global pandemic and resulting closures of schools, there has been an inevitable delay in providing services – or even making decisions about how to provide services – IEP teams (as noted in the March 12, 2020 guidance) must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed when schools resume normal operations.

Finally, although federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities, it does not mandate specific methodologies. Where technology itself imposes a barrier to access or where educational materials simply are not available in an accessible format, educators may still meet their legal obligations by providing children with disabilities equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students. For example, if a teacher who has a blind student in her class is working from home and cannot distribute a document accessible to that student, she can distribute to the rest of the class an inaccessible document and, if appropriate for the student, read the document over the phone to the blind student or provide the blind student with an audio recording of a reading of the document aloud.

Download and read this entire PDF document: Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities…

Online teaching resources for Maine educators

Providing Equal Access to Distance Curriculum

As schools in Maine close in response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and begin to educate their students “from a distance,” we offer some resources to assist in the process.

This resource includes links to articles, videos and services which will assist Maine educators to ensure access to all of their students as they move to teaching online. There are also some references for therapists.

Use this link to go to Resources for Maine Educators Teaching Online

Thanks to our colleagues for sharing their resources. We acknowledge the work of Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, PhD, ATP of RSU 21, Kennebunk, ME and Mike Marotta, Director, The Richard West Assistive Technology Advocacy Center, NJ, and Luis Perez, Ed.D. from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials.

Robbie Foundation – Academic Scholarship Program

The Robbie Foundation is now accepting applications for the 2019-20 academic year.

Robbie Foundation logoThis program is open to Maine children with developmental disabilities who are pursuing a post-secondary education. Understanding how difficult it is for a family to afford all that is required in the life of a child with special needs, Robbie Foundation will award a grant of $1,000 – $2,000 to one family. This money will be applied to tuition and disbursed directly to the college or university.

Deadline for this academic year is April 15th. You still have time to submit an application.

For more information and to apply, please visit the Robbie Foundation website…

US Department of Education – Guidance on COVID-19

In an article published by Disability Scoop, the US Department of Education has offered guidance to educators across the nation on how to handle the needs of students with disabilities.

The article notes:

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a webinar and fact sheet this week for education leaders aimed at ensuring that students’ civil rights are upheld while schools are closed due to COVID-19.

The webinar reminds school officials that distance learning must be accessible unless “equally effective alternate access is provided.”

Online learning tools should be compatible with any assistive technology that students use and schools must regularly test their online offerings for accessibility, the Education Department said.