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May 6, 2020

What is crisis schooling? Exactly what you are doing now!

Distance learning, educational opportunities, work packets, zoom sessions, and (in all your free time) don’t forget you have to work too!

Catherine Whitcher is the founder of Master IEP Coach Mentorship®, a program that teach parents, educators, and any member of the IEP team how to build IEPs that truly prepare students for their future.

Catherine coined the phrase Crisis Schooling after hearing parent concerns about their child’s IEP during the COVID-19 closures.

Today we discuss what Crisis Schooling really is, how to manage it, and how to prepare for what’s next.

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TRANSCRIPT (not proofread)

iep, child, parents, happen, special education, schooling, teachers, working, districts, crisis, school, document, teach, access, sitting, iep meeting, plan, education, baseline, learning

Katherine Witcher, Dana Jonson


Dana Jonson  00:02

Hello, and welcome to need to know with Dana Jonson. I'm your host, Dana Jonson and I'm here to give you the information you need to know to best advocate for your child. I'm a special education attorney in private practice, a former special education teacher and administrator, a current mom to four children with IEPs. And I myself have ADHD and dyslexia. So I've approached the world of disability and special education from many angles. And I'll provide straightforward information about your rights and your schools obligations, information from other professionals on many topics, as well as tips and tricks for working with your school district. My goal is to empower you through your journey. So if there's anything you want to hear, comment on, join our Facebook group, it's aptly named need to know Dana Jonson, or you can email me at Dana at special ED dot life. Okay, let's get started. So today, we're talking with Katherine Witcher, who is the founder of the master IEP mentorship, program, or training. And I'm gonna have you talk a little bit more about that, because it's super exciting. Catherine is a special education sibling, so it's your brother correct your special needs, okay. And the reason I wanted to have you on is I have not done any podcasts that are specific to COVID-19. Because I feel like I want them to be somewhat timeless. And you know, all of this information is good whenever you get it. But I have been incorporating topics that I think really apply and help with COVID-19 and advice on COVID-19 as well as it pertains to those topics. But I came across your podcast the other day, or I don't know if it was yours, right? You're not? Yeah. And I came across it. And I was listening to it. And I Well, all I saw was crisis schooling, I saw the words crisis schooling, and I thought, Oh my God, that's exactly what we're doing right now. It is not homeschooling. And I have actually I have children. My children have been in parochial private Montessori, homeschooling, and public school, so and a special education school. So we've done literally everything. And this is nothing like any of those. So I loved the term crisis schooling, and I wanted to bring you on so we could talk about that, like just what's going on now and what we need to do to prepare for later.


Katherine Witcher  02:28

I appreciate you having me. Thank you. So crisis schooling, is exactly what I thought of when I looked around me. And you know, I have a similar background. As a mom, as you just mentioned, I didn't even know that you know about you. I'm a mom of two girls who are in high school who do not have IEPs. However, they have been through public school private school, Montessori School. And yes, we even homeschooled for a little bit in there. So we've done a lot of different schooling methods. And calling this homeschool is just not appropriate. When you homeschool. You get to choose what you teach, how you teach it, how in depth you go, you get to customize it to your children. It's actually a really great experience once you get into the rhythm of it. And this crisis schooling is it's a instant experience that nobody's had before. And quite honestly, I hope that when this is over that nobody has this again, that we have a better plan in place. For if and when this happens again.


Dana Jonson  03:36

Well, I think I really do think it well, I know, education is going to change forever, right? We don't know exactly how, but it is without question going to change forever. So I mean, I think back when we had the hurricanes, and we were out of school all that time those years, and they kept trying to figure out how could we be schooling from home so we don't miss the days. And so even little pieces like that are going to change. Even if we went back into full time brick and mortar schools, I think knowing that we can do this will change a lot


Katherine Witcher  04:10

about how we school. Absolutely. So I when I kind of coined the term crisis schooling for this, that came about because I was having a lot of conversations with parents and teachers and admins and therapists because that's where my niche is that it's anybody who sits at the IEP table, you know, a lot of people kind of work on one side of the table or the other. And I'm really working with everybody who sits at the IEP table. And I really like to break down the our words and special education and how we're using them and be really smart about it. So if you look at you know, ideal law and you say free and appropriate public education, we all know that that word appropriate is what causes all the tension. It causes all the arguments, it causes all the anxiety because what I think is appropriate is different than what you The thing is appropriate, which is different than what the principal thinks is appropriate. And nobody's necessarily wrong. It's just getting to a common ground on that word appropriate. And when all of this happened, I went appropriate just changed forever. You know, we haven't talked about this, but I'm going to bring up one of the hot topics that I talk about when it comes to appropriate and this falls right into crisis schooling and crisis schooling is not implementing an IEP crisis. schooling is prioritizing what needs to happen now. So you're ready for later. And one of the things about appropriate I'm talking all the time about appropriate IEP goals for the real world having a brother who's 42 with Down syndrome, it's important. I want


Dana Jonson  05:39

to talk about that, because what we didn't talk about yet is I wanted to talk about your master IEP coaching, so that people understand what we're talking about what it is you actually do. So if you could just sort of summarize those programs that


Katherine Witcher  05:51

you offer? Sure, absolutely. So I being a special needs sibling, I decided, when I was like 10 years old, I'm going to be a special education teacher, and I'm going to change the world from the inside of my classroom. You know, I watched my family struggle. I had these rose colored glasses on so I go get a bachelor's degree in a master's degree, and I'm in my classroom, and I went, oh, oh, behind the scenes, not so pretty. It wasn't the teachers who didn't want to provide an education. It's the system that had too much red tape. So I found myself teaching by day and coaching by night. So I started coaching parents. And then I started coaching my boss, and I started coaching the therapist. And then like, you know, what, if you say it this way, if you try it that way, if you write this down, and I'm all about asking really good questions, so somebody would say, Well, I don't know if we can do it this way, when it came to building an IEP, and I said, Well, where does it say you can't show me the policy that says that you can't do like, nobody says you can't? I said, well, then you can. So that's how this methodology kind of came about. And the other one I like is, why not? Yeah, why not?


Dana Jonson  06:56

Why not? I just don't understand why not?


Katherine Witcher  06:58

Yeah. And this goes for everyone. It goes, like I love teaching teachers to say, why can't I empowers them. I love teaching principals and admins and therapists to say, why couldn't I because we get these rules and habits, which are really not regulations. They're just rules of habits that we get in into. So what happened is, for the last 20 years, I was traveling and speaking and doing professional development and teaching parent groups, and I was in all these different kinds of camps that we have in special education, right? So I was in the professional camps. I was in the parent camps. I was always in camps. And people have been asking you, I want to learn to do what you do. And I kept them saying, No, I don't know how No, like, you don't want to do what I do. Like, like, I'm all over the place, right. And then I thought, You know what, no, people want to do what to do. And I'm going to teach them how to do it. And that's where the Master Ip coach mentorship came from. And as far as I know, we are the largest organization that has all sides working together. So having people that are employed by the school district, that our parents that are at home, we have like set parents, teachers, admins, and therapists who come into the mentorship and they learn strategies that work from all roles on the IEP team. And we implement those to ensure that every child is prepared for further education, employment, independent living. So our focus on our mentorship is really about that purpose and findings section where we say, meet a child's unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, independent living. So when the world fell apart a few months ago, that was the opening that was the opening to say appropriate is going to change forever unique needs are more different than ever, and being prepared for the future is more important than ever.


Dana Jonson  08:48

Yeah, it is definitely. And so you offer this coaching for both schools, parents, therapists, and then you also do do a program that is just for parents, right that's specific to their needs.


Katherine Witcher  09:01

So actually, that's the IEP masterclass, and anybody sits at the IEP table is welcome in that too. So all of my programs are for everybody. Meaning that I don't train separately, I will say the same thing and a staff professional development that I would say in a parent support group, which means that I will say the same thing in the IEP masterclass, which is combined with the special education inner circle, I will say the same thing to everybody who's in there, because I want parents to understand the teacher struggles, teachers to understand the parent struggles and to come with common strategies. It to me, it's ridiculous that we send people off to separate trainings and we say here, you get these tools in your toolbox, and you get those tools in your toolbox. But I want you to come together and work on the same project.


Dana Jonson  09:46

Yes, I actually just I was speaking to a math math guy the other day he does just special ed math. And we were talking about how most people who write the math goals and objectives and IPs are not math teachers.


Katherine Witcher  10:00

May I also say that most people who make special education decisions have no special education experience.


Dana Jonson  10:05

There's that. But yes, so think about it. You know, we're so focused on getting the special ed people in there that we're not always getting in all the people we need, because disabilities impact kids across many topics, not just one.


Katherine Witcher  10:20

Absolutely, absolutely. And that's where we have to focus back on that word appropriate that I was talking about. Because, you know, when you talk about, you know, math goals, not being written by somebody who specializes in math is the same thing. As somebody who's writing a golden age for a child to be prepared as a young adult for the future, yet, they're not thinking about what the real world looks like. So like, I'm a big, and this goes with the crisis schooling too. So crisis schooling, and I know, that's why you reached out, we started this conversation. So crisis schooling is about prioritizing what a child needs now to stabilize, and what they need to support them to move through this crisis and be ready for when whatever this next step is, that's coming up when when that happens, we need to be ready for that. That also means crisis schooling means you get to eliminate what I call junk IEP goals. I mean, I'm a call it like, it is kind of person, there are junk IEP goals and most IPs, that doesn't mean that somebody had malicious intent and wrote a terrible IEP goal, because they don't believe in the child or they have low expectations. You know, those emotions are typically not there. When a poor IEP goal is written. It's more of an oversight of oh, I wasn't thinking about it in a different way.


Dana Jonson  11:41

A lot of times, that's what parents come to my office with, is there some issue? And usually it's communication is broken down, as you said, and then it got worse. And it wasn't like you said, because it wasn't because someone was malicious or mean, sometimes maybe they were, I'm just gonna say, but usually, it's an issue of, you know, two different perspectives, two different perceptions, or two different obligations, and a lack of communication over it.


Katherine Witcher  12:11

Yep. And that lack of communication is becoming more and more apparent through this crisis schooling. We have some districts that are, you know, right on top of this, even if they're not doing a great job at crisis, schooling support in the way of implementing maybe strategies or different things, because they really don't know what to do next. But they're trying and then we have districts that are, quite honestly, they're so fearful of trying that they're not trying at all.


Dana Jonson  12:40

Yeah, and you're in Illinois, right? So absolutely, yeah, I'm in Connecticut, and we have the exact same thing. And I suspect and from colleagues of mine around the country, and actually, friends of mine who even live in other countries are experiencing very similar issues. Now, for us, it's the same thing, our districts are handling it differently. And so some kids are getting everything and more. I even know there's a district I heard who actually a staff going to the house, because the children are so in paired. And you know, that in and of itself is very complicated, because you have to have a family willing to do it and staff willing to do it, to have somebody new coming in and out of their house. So we have some districts that are stepping up that way, and then others who are like nope, no more special ed until next year, or whenever we go back. And fortunately, this week, we got information that that special education is still happening is still enforceable. Everyone needs to get educated. So what are you in this crisis schooling, and I love how you said that. Because, you know, the thought of parents having to teach new skills and teach subjects they don't understand is almost impossible. So what are you saying when parents call you and say, I don't know what to do? The IEP says this. But we're over here doing that my school district is offering something completely different. And I have no idea what to do. And am I doing it wrong? Is my kid going to? What are they going to do to them when they get back? What do you say?


Katherine Witcher  14:14

So I start out with you're not doing it wrong. There is no wrong here. But I love to use really concrete real life examples. And so when I look at building appropriate IEP goals, and in what needs to happen long term, so I'm a big picture. I like say okay, so five years from now, what does your child need to know, to function in the real world and what could we work on right now? And if the IEP matches up to that great and if it doesn't, okay, then you know what, we need to rewrite some of this IEP. Anyway. So for example, if it's something like math, and the child has a magical so typically parents will get detailed with me, I'm going to ask them questions. It was a child's math bowl. And they'll tell me something like, well, they're supposed to be counting Penny nickels, dimes and quarters up to 99 cents and, and all of this stuff and I can't sit at the table and make sure and I got off the muffin tin and I had them sorting coins. And I started doing that. And then I go back to the question, I said, Listen, when's the last time you went to the store personally, and you counted out Penny nickels, dimes and quarters. And she's like, never like I couldn't tell you maybe when I got a, I don't know, $1 candy bar back in the day. But I don't do that. I said, You know what, you can't give people money right now. They won't take it. So I said, How are you shopping? Well, I go online. Okay. And how are you deciding what you want versus what you need? And how are you budgeting? And what's greater than less than? And how are you adding things together, and we have this conversation. And I said, and that's what your child needs to be learning, because that's the real world. Penny nickels, dimes, and quarters are done. They're done. They've been done. My brother is 42. And I can tell you, it, probably the last time that he counted out change is when he was in, you know, like eighth grade, sitting around doing an IEP goal. He doesn't like change, he doesn't use change. If he has to touch change, it goes in his pocket, he can't wait to get it out because he can swipe a debit card. So there are a ton of skills that can be worked on. And that starts to relieve a parent's anxiety over I'm not doing this IEP goal, right? And I said, No, but what are you doing in real life? That is math skills. Now let's start to integrate that. So it's not I do school, and I do life, life is school right now. And school is life.


Dana Jonson  16:44

And I love that because I see that parents are not putting enough value on what they are doing. That's what I'm seeing. I see there's a lot of fear. And a lot of, well, you know, all day, all we could do is blah, blah, blah. And they're listing like seven activities that I'm thinking those are great activities. But none of them were in the IEP. So I you know, my advice is, if you can't get to something, you don't get to it. Because this isn't real school. It's not real life. It's not real school, we're all still trying to figure it out. School still have to happen, and learning still has to happen. But I think that there's a misnomer that we have to learn in a certain order. Exactly. There are skills that we can implement or teach at the same time or before or after, and it doesn't matter. And I think I love the message of don't get caught up in, in what the AIP says. So right now in Connecticut, we are starting to see IEP meetings come back. Have you started to see IEP meetings come back? Virtually? Yeah, so


Katherine Witcher  17:52

one of the first trainings that I put out there, and that's available, if any of your listeners just reach out to Kathryn, you can, I'll get you the link directly to how to prep for a virtual IEP meeting. And that was one of the first things that I put out. So having done what I've been doing for 20 years, I've been working nationwide, which means I've attended 1000s, of IEP meetings virtually. And I thought, oh my goodness, like people need to know there's more than just showing up on a screen when it comes to a successful virtual IEP meeting. And in fact, I love virtual IP meetings, one of the first things that I'm telling people is, you have to say yes, if the virtual IP meetings being offered to you say yes, because there's going to be two lines of people when school goes back into session, the ones that said no, and they want to go after the school district and they want compensatory education and they are angry and and we need this meeting and I want a meeting within 30 days. Well guess what if we do all IEP meetings, within 30 days of school going back, there will be no teachers in the classroom. It's not gonna happen. I can I right, it's impossible. So take the virtual IEP meeting, do what you can do virtually get the paperwork moving forward, get plans moving forward, because then you become the workable family and the workable IEP team that has open communication about what can happen. And then that process is going to go faster for you. So even if it's not perfect, it's going to launch you in the right direction.


Dana Jonson  19:24

And to that point, I completely agree with you. And I've been saying that as well. And, and now that we know that combat is on the table, compensatory education is a thing. And it's a complicated thing and too much to talk about and define and explain here. But I've also been telling parents, I said there's also going to be different lines for the parents who are going to get relief. And unfortunately, the ones who are going to get relief first are going to be the ones with attorneys or advocates, someone representing them, the ones who knew exactly what to do and how to do it in the right way. And then everybody else. And it's going to be really hard. I think. And I don't want everyone to have to go talk to a lawyer. I don't mean that at all. That is not what I'm saying. But I think it is important to know that we have to be on top of things right now. Because that will change when we get back when this is over and defined over, by the way, right? Define over.


Katherine Witcher  20:28

And this is what I say right now, when I'm teaching my community is that it's time to be done with the shock factor like this happened, we're done. There's no more I can't believe no, it did. It's we're there. We're getting to, you know, the first part of May, where they're shocked over can't sit there. Now it has to be what do I need to do now to move through this to get to whatever the next step is, and we don't know what that is. But you can position yourself better by being knowledgeable. And yeah, not everybody's going to need to go to an attorney. But everybody should know what a good Prior Written Notice looks like. Yes. And that includes a teacher, a teacher needs to be able to collaborate teachers are taught to be afraid of the the system paperwork. And that's nothing to be afraid of, I love to teach that to my Master Ip coaches, or those that are in the master class. And I say, You know what, I'm teach teachers how parents need to write advocacy letters, because it makes them not so scary. There's a reason that that certain words are in there, there's a reason we put a timeline in there, it's not to throw the teacher under the bus, it's to hold the system accountable, the people who write their paycheck accountable for what needs to get done.


Dana Jonson  21:48

And from my perspective as the attorney, so if one of your students or clients have to ultimately end up with me, for me, I need the document, I need the document trail. And if the document trail isn't there, if it didn't happen in writing, it didn't happen all the time. So you know, when I say you need to be prepared or speak to an attorney or someone like that, I don't mean that everyone has to go hire them. But I know at least in Connecticut, there isn't a single Special Ed attorney who won't talk a parent through what they need to do next. And you know, I don't want parents to be afraid to call parents and say this is my issue or not not to call parents to call attorneys and say this is my issue. Because they also think and I want your opinion on this, there's a difference. When I'm coming in, I'm not helping write the IEP, right when I come in, there's already a dispute, somebody already wrote the IEP and somebody already doesn't like it. That's why I am there. And your your skills and talents come into play with that while we're redoing it. But that's not really my role, I need to just look at the facts and see what's there and push it forward. But when you talk about those letters, and specifically, you know, holding the school district accountable, if those letters don't have the right words in them, it also doesn't help me right, because you need to trigger their obligations. And I think that's another reason why it's really important for parents to seek that advice. And as you say, you know, teachers are so scared of all this paperwork. And I know parents are really scared of calling anyone to call in to help. They're just they really don't want to look egregious. They don't want to look like they're mad at the school. And none of that is the case. Right? I mean, you need the support you need.


Katherine Witcher  23:34

Absolutely, you know, I think a word that you and I both will appreciate in this time for parents and for teachers to learn is the word access, because that's where we're having a lot of difficulty. So like, there are schools that you know, you and I have chatted about that there's great access to things. I'm not saying it's perfect. I'm not saying that, you know, kids are making, you know, leaps and bounds of of progress. But when I say there's a different level of access in some schools, and what's interesting to me is it's not necessarily even a financial thing, you know, others districts that are very well to do districts where their students are not having access to the IEP team for support. So it's important for both families to understand that what you know, what did you have access to, and what did you not have access to, because that's where a lot of our foundational law is setting, right, having equal access to education as our same age peers, teachers, if teachers learn to document how they're trying to help their students access things, then they're really in therapists too, and admins too, and if there's something higher above, that is preventing the team who is in the trenches because that's, the team's in the trenches, the parents are in the trenches, if there's something higher up that is dictating or preventing that access. So, to me, that's where compensatory education is really going to come forward. Because that was at a district level that it was that it was prevented. And it's kind of like the teacher did their best job. And the therapist did their best job and the parent reached out, you know, every other day to try to access and it just wasn't happening. Because whatever that because it's going to be that documentation of the word access is going to be huge.


Dana Jonson  25:25

And I think that, you know, that was one of the concerns when this all started was, is the pandemic, an excuse for not providing the services? Is that a justifiable reason for not providing a faith. And I think it's not dissimilar at first to when we have a hurricane, and we're shut down for a week, right, that happens. But we've now gotten to a place. So I do think that there are going to be a couple of weeks, it'll probably be very forgiven by the powers that be when we get to that place. But as you said, we're out of shock now, right? Like, we got to stop being shocked by it. This is the way it is right now. There's a lot of changing, it's going to continue to change. We can't define everything. Like you said the word appropriate. Now we have the words to the extent possible, right to the maximum there, they're doing things to the but even if they tried their best, and the child didn't receive the services, they are still entitled to them.


Katherine Witcher  26:24

Absolutely. Absolutely. In that documentation of how you tried to access who tried to access who tried to do what, because otherwise, we're gonna end up in a big, he said, she said, that's when I pass those on to you, Dana, that's where I said, you know, I'm not getting into the he said, My job is to make sure that that IEP document is beautiful, and that we've done everything possible to work towards implement and all of that it's when that communication breakdown happens that you talked about, that we ended up in the he said, she said, Yes, they did. No, they didn't. And there was no documentation of that. One of the first things that I told, you know, my community that I was working with was take a baseline data right now, right now baseline it because people left school without having proper documentation. We didn't know what was going to happen. They left on Friday never went back on Monday. And there may not have been data taken on the math problems, the reading problems, the behavior, outbursts, I don't know where that data is at. And everybody was in freakout mode. So I'm like, You do what you need to do to document as much as possible of baseline, because the first step, when we get whatever this new, normal is gonna be, how do we get that to baseline in the important skills? Now, mind you, if they're what I call the junk IEP goals, I don't care about baseline, I don't want to go there, we don't have time for that. We have to really prioritize what's most important for the child to be prepared for the future? And how do we get to back to baseline as fast as possible? Yes,


Dana Jonson  27:54

exactly. The baseline is important. And I've also been asking parents to document what is working, right, because some things are working that you either couldn't do before, or you didn't think of doing before. And those are just as important because we're not just going to be looking at compensatory education, we're going to also be looking at that appropriate education to and that's going to be different moving forward.


Katherine Witcher  28:19

And you know, the big piece that comes to mind when you talk about that perspective, I know a parents can be like, what did they mean by like, what's working? Well, if you found a piece of technology that is working for your child right now, that is a great piece of technology to get into the IEP going forward. So a lot of times, what I have found has happened is you have a child who receives specialized instruction, and then you have them integrating into general education, but they don't have access to the same technology to make that happen. Well, with this crisis, that gap of technology, and I'm not talking about, you know, lack of internet access, I'm talking about the actual Chromebook or the actual iPad or the actual Google Classroom password. Okay, I've had it took weeks to get kids in special education, the same dang Google Classroom password as their peers. And it was just an I get it, the IT guy was overwhelmed, but come on. So like, those are the things that I see as a silver lining opportunity of what is working is no longer should we ever have an IEP that does not have appropriate technology for their you know, compared to I should say, their same age peers, because the minute that they shut down these schools again, because let's just face it, this happened way too easy. It was a hard decision, but it happened way too easy. Yes, it's going to happen. Some version of this is going to happen again, whether it's part time, full time, rolling, you know, closures, whatever it's going to be that technology of what is working needs to be on the IEP.


Dana Jonson  29:54

Yes, you're absolutely right. And I think that to that point that this is chain Each forever, we're also going to be utilizing this distance learning for other things. I think that not just crises, I think our school districts are going to say, Oh, we got it to work to a degree. And what else can we do? I think, you know, that concept of can parents attend the PPT me or I'm sorry, we call them PBTS and Connecticut IEP meetings, you know, are they going to be saying, well, if you can join via zoom that that counts? You know? And that's a good question, because the meetings that are happening, and I want to ask you about this meetings that happen on Zoom are vastly different than in person. So for me, one of the things I'm doing when I go to IEP meetings is I'm summing up the witnesses, right? I'm looking at who can I not wait to cross examine? And, and how did my client handle the meeting, because they're going to be a witness to. And so my hope is that I never get to that place and that none of them are ever witness on a stand. But I have to think about that. And that's more difficult on video. So what are some of the differences and and, and tips that you're giving to parents? I know, one of the things I've been saying is that it's more formal. And it's more difficult because you have to give people time and take a turn, and so not to misinterpret that as it being adversarial.


Katherine Witcher  31:18

So I tell them something similar. And this is what I love about the Master Ip coach program is we speak in very layman's terms in the way of like, I'm like, listen, there's no fluff in an IEP meeting that's happening, virtually none of the reasons I love it, right, it's like there's no fluff. And I actually do find a positive that everybody tends to be heard, because everybody has to be quiet. There's no, you know, kind of side shuffle of, oh, look, the doughnuts arrived. You know, there's none of that really happening. It's very much like, who's gonna speak now unmute yourself. I kind of like that. One big tip that I don't see anyplace else that I implement in virtual IP meetings I'm really encouraging the Master Ip coaches to do this is that I want the parent specifically to have a second mode of communication with a trusted IEP team member during the meeting, being that when the meeting is happening, and usually I'm that person saying that you might be that person. But even if you AI or Master Ip coach, or another lawyer that is not sitting there, I want them to have like the social worker, the one who gives them like the Wink, wink, nod nod. Okay, that trusted person, I want them to have like, their cell phone. So they can text and say, what did the speech therapist just say? What is the teacher really mean? Because it's hard to take it all in? And did I hear that right? And my understanding, and you don't want to constantly feel like you're interrupting. That's what the hard part is. It's not like you can kind of gently raise your hand and say, like, Um, can you clarify that? Because it's a parent, that feels very uncomfortable. But if they have a trusted person that well, you know, they're talking on screen and everybody's going around, or they're participating by phone, but they know they have a direct line to somebody said that can say, what does that mean? Then the social worker might text back and say, just a minute, I got you, you know, like, Yeah, I'm gonna ask that too. So it's kind of like, hang on parent, we, you know, we've got that. So that, to me is very important for a parent to feel connected, is for them to have a secondary, almost like a private line. So their voices heard.


Dana Jonson  33:23

Yes, because they can't write me a note. Yeah. Sitting next what


Katherine Witcher  33:27

we do, you know, if I'm sitting next to somebody, there, they're in there. I'm like a pen. No, but what am I supposed to write down? questions to me really big, so I can glance. So, you know, because I've been doing this virtually for so long, I would tell them, Don't let the school use your cell phone to call me in, you know, like, you keep your cell phone. And if you have questions, I'm gonna be on my cell phone, but I can still text. And you know, we can go back and forth. So when a team member says something that's confusing to you, or upsetting, or somebody's has a facial expression that you're like, I don't think the psychologist agrees with that. You can kind of feed me in on what's happening.


Dana Jonson  34:04

Got it? Yeah, no, that is that is definitely key. Are you seeing because we've had some discussions about this here in IEP meetings now that we're going through the COVID-19. For us here, we are not changing IPs for these services, as we should not because we don't want to change their IPs because we don't know what we're going back to right. So but you can have a plan B. And you can have a distance learning plan for a child if you know what works much the way you have a behavior plan attached to the IEP. So have you had any experience with that with any of your clients?


Katherine Witcher  34:45

So we're launching into that now that's actually something that I am teaching. You know, I said that we teach Master Ip coach methods and the next method that's up and coming into our Master Ip coach programs that I'm teaching is going to be all about EA That's why plans and remote learning plans. And again, we talk real world kind of justification when you're sitting on it, but you gotta get people to understand where you're coming from. And I have some districts that are definitely, no, we're not, we're not going to talk about remote learning plans, we're going to be head in the sand like this never happened. And it's never going to happen again. Yes, I said, Listen,


Dana Jonson  35:22

we're getting that's exactly what we're getting. Yeah. So I said, Listen,


Katherine Witcher  35:25

you've got a tornado drill, in a tornado plan, because tornadoes happened. And you've got a fire drill and a fire plant, because fires have happened. And you know, out in Connecticut, you just have a hurricane plan. Because hurricanes happen. This is no different than a plan that may or may not be implemented. But it would be foolish not to document what has worked and not work. I'm not asking for a full commitment of a remote learning plan, what I'm coaching my Master Ip coaches to do, because we have a checklist of questions to ask, that will lead to documentation of a conversation at minimum. Right, so if we can't get an official remote learning plan put in there, it's like, what is working? Okay, you know, the iPad is working with such and such communication device with whatever. Okay, so let's document that during remote learning. This has been an essential tool, so at least it's documented in there. And we can refer back to that, what I'm getting in some districts who are open to an I will say something like if they don't have a formal plan that they're creating in the district to say, can we just make a bullet point list that would say, if remote learning was to happen in the future the child should be provided with, and just list the things that work. And during the current experience, the following was not effective. And that's it, I'm just looking for a checklist give me five things that worked five thing that didn't work, some tools that were used, so this way, when the school shuts down, we can open up the plan and say, start here,


Dana Jonson  36:58

right. So maybe learn from our says, is that a suggestion?


Katherine Witcher  37:05

Just a little bit? Yeah, love it.


Dana Jonson  37:07

You know, it has been really interesting, because I, you know, when I hear parents or school districts say, well, we don't see that in school. And I laugh, because now home is school. So I kind of feel like, do we get to go revisit all those things again?


Katherine Witcher  37:21

You know, I said to that, you know, and I encourage parents to parents were getting more frustrated with all the Zoom meetings, and all the things going on. And they said, Listen, I can guarantee at some point in your career advocating for your child, you said, I wish the school team just understood what happened at home. And right now you have a school, most people have a school that's willing to turn on a camera and see in your house, do not let that opportunity go. meltdowns, great, dirty dishes on the counter, because you're so busy, because yeah, awesome. child won't attend for more than 30 seconds without extreme adult prompting, go for it. This is what you've been asking for. I wish the school would understand. And they now have a window into your home. And I understand that's not going to be pretty, that's okay.


Dana Jonson  38:09

Yeah, well, we did have a situation where a teacher called one of my colleagues because she could see the older brother rolling joints in the background.


Katherine Witcher  38:17

Alright, that's a problem that's.


Dana Jonson  38:20

So, you know, maybe do that activity somewhere else. But I do like what you're saying, which is, you know, we have an opportunity now to show them what they weren't seeing. And because this is now their educational environment, it has to be adjusted. And I think, you know, we're also seeing a lot of children who were doing okay, in their classroom. But now, because of this, maybe their disability has made it impossible for them to access their education. And so now those children have to be considered as well. And those children are going to have to be evaluated, we're going to have a lot of long lines when we get back there. So what would be your top recommendations for parents when they are going to those you said, go to the IEP meetings? Definitely take them because you're absolutely right. There's going to be such a long line when this is over. If you have an opportunity to get something done, get it done, no matter what. But what are some of your top recommendations for parents right now? Whether it's through the IEP process or teaching at home or what what are you letting your clients know so that they're prepared as you can be?


Katherine Witcher  39:28

Yeah, as prepared as you can be? So one of the one of the biggest starting points that I'm having a conversation with parents about now is the time to really evaluate what's important in your child's IEP because if you are going to, you know, I don't like the word fight that will just go to if you are going to fight for something if you're going to fight for something compensatory education, or fight for something to continue in the fall, even if it's part time learning, if you're really going to work towards something thing, let's make sure that it's important for your child's future. Because your child's IEP is not to suppose to contain everything that they learn. It's not a comprehensive document that limits a child's learning, it is our foundation piece to prioritize what is needed to prepare a child for further education, employment and independent living by meeting their unique needs. So let's really use it for its intended purpose, prioritize streamline, make sure that the best of the best IEP goals are focused on because, again, when an if this falls apart, again, in our school system, you're going to already be ahead in knowing what to focus on the same thing that when they give back to school, the teachers are going to be a massive chaos of trying to figure out how to get back to baseline, what should we be working on what's going on. So if you can help eliminate some of those unnecessary focus areas that might have been in the IEP in the past, and you know, what you might have thought that they were important six months ago, you might have thought that some of those math goals were super important, you might have thought some of those reading goals were super important. It's okay, to have changed your mind, this crisis has changed the mind of a lot of us, it's changed my mind, as a parent, I'm sure it's changed your mind as a parent of what needs to happen in the next 12 to 18 months for our children to be successful. And it's okay to change that document to really change the future impact of that IEP on your child's education. So that's the first part it's about streamlining and making sure that we're prioritizing in the right spot. The other thing that I really want parents to understand is that an IEP doesn't determine their child's lifelong success in the way that many of them believe it does. So in the way of like, like, Oh, if they don't learn it in the IEP, if it's not wind down, my child's going to be a failure forever, they're never going to succeed, they're never going to have further education, they're never going to get a job. And it doesn't stop a child from being successful. Right? So it's all or nothing is that yes. So it's very much if we don't get this an IP, my child's gonna fail at life. No, they're not, no, they're not, you're not going to let that happen. This is one document. This is one piece. So you know, we have medical papers, we have educational papers, we have Department of Human Service papers, we've got papers and papers and papers, we've got all different agencies, this is a lifelong, this is a marathon, not a sprint. So things are not perfect right now, do not put that mom guilt or dad guilt on yourself with that I failed my child because the document isn't perfect. And I didn't get that one thing, and I didn't get the extra 30 minutes of speech. And I didn't get that. Take some pressure off yourself. Because like you had mentioned before, you're doing more than you realize, you know, you're doing so much in the area of, oh, well, I have to get my child a snack before they can sit down to their speech therapy lesson. And by giving your child a snack, you pretty much just have an entire speech therapy, you know, session by you're like, do you want, you know, red juice? Or purple juice? Do you want this snack or that snack? You know, tell mom how you feel? Are you hungry? Are you not hungry? You just did their bit, and then you expect them to sit down and go learn from the therapist. And so it's just important to give yourself credit, the documents never going to be perfect. Let's prioritize it. And let's keep moving forward.


Dana Jonson  43:37

That's great. And for when we go back to that table, and we are sitting there, we're going to be looking at a different appropriate,


Katherine Witcher  43:45

right. Absolutely, absolutely. You know, there's going to be things that we want more of like we mentioned technology, yes, there's gonna be things that we want less of like those skills that we needed in the 1980s that are not relevant. Now. That's a whole conversation for another day, right of where our special education curriculum. But yeah, we're all is typically focused. I mean, my brother, born in 1977, our law was enacted in 1975. I can tell you that if I went through my mom's basement, some of the same worksheets that my brother had in 1980 are still in my clients folders today.


Dana Jonson  44:18

Yes. And I will say I've been saying that for a long time that our education system needs to be revamped. I mean, everybody's been saying that. But does it have to fall apart before that happens? And I think we're finding out now I think we're going to be forced into that. I don't know if you saw that Betsy DeVos put out I'm not going to do it justice. So don't take anything from his actual fact. But basically asking states to, you know, you'll get more money. If you can come up with a system. Can you come up with a K to 12 system that can be flexible and work like this? And if states come up with them, they'll get more money. It's like an incentive to figure this out because it is something that needs we're recognizing finally that it has to be figured out or I shouldn't say We are the people who control the money are now realizing that we need to change this up on and


Katherine Witcher  45:08

I said you know it another silver lining from this experience is that, you know, I've been knocking on doors and standing outside offices for decades trying to get attention for what is possible in special education, not just what's lacking what's possible in special education. In the past month, I've been on NPR, I've been on 10 O'Clock News, I've been on all these different media outlets, because of what I do in special education. And what an opportunity to help the world see what we need as a special needs community. It's not about me, and in the work that I do, it's about why I do it and who we're doing this for, and that this shouldn't have taken this type of crisis to bring to light, the fact of what has really been happening in special education for the last 20 years,


Dana Jonson  46:08

yes, and I see parents saying, or I'm hearing all over the place, be flexible, be cooperative, you've been flexible and cooperative, since your child was diagnosed, that is the world of a special ed parent, all we do is spend time trying to find a different way to do something. And this is just another opportunity to sharpen those skills. And in fact, we should be probably in a slightly better situation other than, you know, we do have a lot of parents who have children who aren't functioning at all right now for a variety of leaves at all levels of disability, you know, at all levels, you know, what we would consider maybe not so impaired, but they're they're crumbling, because this isn't working. So I don't mean to belittle that, but we have been doing this and I see the frustration. I have it to hearing from parents of children with regular ed children saying, This isn't fair. They're not getting everything they need, how are they going to progress to the next grade? I don't know why they're pushing my child ahead without teaching them. These are all things that special ed parents have been saying for years. And so there's part of me that's like, yeah, I guess the table's turned Hmm. Nobody likes this. We don't like it either. So I'm really hopeful that it will give us a chance to change that. And we should be more individualized for everybody. And I believe there's a way to do it. We'll we'll see if you can,


Katherine Witcher  47:32

but Right, right, this is an opportunity to change the conversation, for sure. And that's what needs to happen. And there weren't people willing to have the conversation, because, in my opinion, they thought it was a small portion, they thought that what you and I do, we're for a little percentage of our community that happens to have struggles when their education doesn't work out. And that's not what you and I do know, you and I are honestly working with a significant part of our community that wants to be part of the community at an equal level. And to do that, it's going to take change to the conversation and more people to realize that when there's 6.6 million kids receiving special education services, and probably like you're mentioning a ton more that are going to get recognized as kids who function in the classroom, but don't function in the real world without the boundaries and parameters of the school system in there, that there's a lot of work to be done beyond just fixing an IEP.


Dana Jonson  48:41

Yes. So, on that note, if somebody wants to fix their IEP, and they are interested in your master class, how do they find you? How would they


Katherine Witcher  48:52

do, the best thing for you do is go run over to IEP Just get started with the checklist. Let me give you a checklist. And the checklist is for anybody who sits at the IEP table. So teachers you go sign up, it's not going to be an advocacy newsletter that throws you under the bust. And parents you need to go sign up because it's not an IEP checklist that you can just find on Google somewhere. It's stuff that you need to really change this conversation to move forward. So if you head over to IEP and grab that checklist, then you and I will be connected, and we can go from there. Great.


Dana Jonson  49:30

They love that IEP And I will also put that in the show notes. Is there anything else you'd like to leave parents with in this crazy COVID time?


Katherine Witcher  49:42

I'd love for every parent to see that there is hope in possibilities of what can come from this situation. It's not pretty. It fell apart. But us in the special needs community we can put things back together better than Never and we have the opportunity to do that.


Dana Jonson  50:02

Great. Thank you so much for joining me. This was such great information. I really appreciate it.


Katherine Witcher  50:08

Thank you for having me.


Dana Jonson  50:10

Thank you so much for joining me today. Please don't forget to subscribe to this podcast so that you get notifications when new episodes come out. And I want to know what you want to know. So join our Facebook group also named need to know with Dana Jonson or you can email me at Dana at special ED dot life. But definitely reach out with your comments and questions and I'll see you next time here on need to know with Dana Jonson Have a fabulous day