Monday, March 06, 2017

Are Your Child's Needs Part of Your School's Emergency Planning?

Back when my son was in school, and after lockdown drills became a thing, I remember getting notes complaining that he was not behaving with appropriate quiet stillness and asking that I talk to him about the seriousness of the drill and the need for everyone to practice laying low and praying not to get shot. And I appreciate the stressful situation school personnel are in. I'm sure they're freaked out by the implications of lockdown drills themselves. A kid talking and making noise and moving around and being disruptive could be a life-and-death issue. I get it.

But none of that changes the fact that disabilities don't come with an emergency off switch. If a student has a diagnosed disability that impairs the ability to sit still and be quiet — and that makes regulation in times of stress even less likely — that disability is still going to be present and still going to require support and accommodation no matter how many memos you put out stating the lockdown rules and how many notes you send home.

I've been looking around for a while for information on how exactly schools are supposed to manage this kind of challenge and didn't find much in the way of information. Finally, I saw an article from the journal Teaching Exceptional Children titled “Supporting Students With Disabilities During School Crises: A Teacher’s Guide,” written by two special-education professors who also have kids with disabilities and also wondered, “Why isn't anyone creating resources to handle this really obvious problem that is not going to go away no matter how much you may wish it so?”

I invited the authors, Dr. Dusty Columbia Embury and Dr. Laura Clarke, to Q&A with me about this on the Friendship Circle site, and that post is up now: “How to Keep Students with Disabilities Safe in Lockdowns, Evacuations, and Other School Crises.” Please, read both these articles and share them around. This is something we all have to put our heads together about.

Note that this is not just about kids with behavioral or sensory issues. Think about what happens when your kid is locked down in one room and the insulin she's scheduled to get right now is in another. Think about how your kid who has to be moved from a wheelchair to a chair and back is going to be evacuated quickly. If your child has a seizure or an allergic reaction at the worst possible time, would the staff they happen to be with know what to do?

No one knows when a real disaster is going to happen or how anyone will react when it does. But schools think it's important enough to practice and practice and practice for it. Those practices alone can be a disaster for kids with disabilities, if they don't include rehearsal for the accommodations that are their legitimate need and right. If your school's not on top of that, print out the two articles linked above, schedule an IEP meeting, and get some balls rolling.


Jess Speck said...

Excellent point. I have one child with a 504 (extreme anxiety and autism) and a child with an IEP (severe ADHD and severe behavioral--including constant elopement from school). Neither one could tolerate a traditional classroom, so they attend public school online at home (the second, my youngest, has been homeschooled for the past year and a half, but is going to attend starting in August of this year). I shudder to think what might have happened to either of them in an emergency and I highly doubt either of them was in any kind of emergency plan--ever. I was certainly never told of such a plan. I feel like I made the right decision for my particular kiddos in enrolling them in Connections Academy.

Unknown said...

What a great point, Both of my children have special needs but my son tends to be worse. In addition to Asperger, ADHD, PTSD and others he has sensory issues and an alarm going off would cause all types of problems. I will be sure to ask this be added as part of his IEP. If you want to know more about me take a peak at my blog

Sophie van der Linden said...

Educational establishments must work along with parents to improve their handling of critical situations. Sending notes home may work only to alarm the parent that a dialogue should be held to work on the issue. The staff should learn about different kinds of mild or severe disabilities and have a skillset to help such children during an emergency situation.
Thanks for taking this topic up with such commitment!