The Arc’s COVID-19 Updates | June 8, 2020: Visitation, Special Education, And Upcoming Priorities

In our latest weekly COVID-19 update from Executive Director Leo Sarkissian, learn more about the latest information from the Department of Developmental Services, the Department of Early and Secondary Education, and The Arc’s upcoming priorities and projects.

Recapping The Last Week
The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) released a new visitation effective on June 10, which you can see here. We appreciate DDS opening up a pathway for families to reconnect. Highlights include:

  • Outdoor visiting, though tents can be used as long as there are no closed sides and air flow is maintained.
  • Appointments made in advance of visit with maximum of 2 people.
  • The “residential program” may further restrict visits based on safety.
  • All visitors should adhere to state protective guidelines, including masks and social distancing.

We will encourage the Department to develop some further guidance for individuals who will have difficulty with social distancing.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released a June 8 Guidance on Summer 2020 Special Education Services which can be obtained here via the On the Desktop documents list. It supplements a June 4 guidance which can be obtained from the June 8 memo. A few key points:

  • Special Education services will continue to look different.
  • Many, if not most, students will continue to receive remote learning.
  • “Districts should employ their best efforts to provide as many in-person services to high-priority students this summer as is feasible while following proper health and safety precautions.”
  • The memo references the use of “in-person services in a student’s home with the consent of the students’ parent/guardian” to alleviate some of the cleaning, transportation, and facilities issues associated with in-person instruction.
  • On-board of DSPs is referenced, recognizing the need for personal instruction.
  • The memo notes, “Clear ongoing communication between schools and families prior to, during, and after the implementation of these requirements is essential.”
  • From initial guidance on June 4, some points include keeping school attendees at less than 25%, a robust list of safety precautions, and including students with special needs among the top 3 priority groups to return.

Continued communication by families will be important, as students who have personal care needs may be some of the same students who will not tolerate wearing masks. These students often don’t do well in remote learning without substantial assistance. It’s a double bind that we need to work through.

DDS released re-contracting guidance for the FY’21. The administration extended 2020 contracts (residential and related programs using June 2020 figures) at 50% of the total amount appropriated during this year. The decision was made after consultation with the legislature. State policymakers have no basis on which to make revenue projections for 2021, as the state is only just re-opening and our future taxes will be based on income as we go forward. Another major source of revenue is through further federal assistance. As we have reported, the House “Heroes” stimulus package is held up in negotiations with the Senate. The federal reserve chief also has called for another major stimulus.

The Week Ahead
We are working on another national letter from disability organizations to ensure that any package includes consideration of our constituents and DSPs, in areas such as PPE, testing, and pay. Thank you to The Arc US and our affiliates for the continued advocacy, and we appreciate the work of Mentor and other agencies as we push once more.

We need to look ahead as the re-opening occurs, to make sure there are ample resources for residential and day services, as well as MassHealth programs such as AFC or day habilitation. Although MassHealth has not authorized any additional support for AFC caregivers, we do appreciate that DDS has provided companionship and other appropriate support to families who provide AFC.

We will provide training through virtual tools for staff and families in regard to “trauma informed” care or support. This month, the training will be focused on staff at all levels, while next month, we will offer a family session. All are welcome to attend either session, though we may have to cap attendance under 50 people due to the topic.

ADDP, our field’s trade organization, is working with DDS through small groups to prepare for the re-opening of day and employment services. We expect some of the same policies and procedures will be applicable to day habilitation in MassHealth.

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