Parents, of student’s who receive special education services and have an Individual Education Program or IEP, should ask about their schools policy on providing services. Parents can have an impact on how policy is followed. Administrators of an education system often lack awareness of the duties and medical aspects of SLPs and think they can just follow the same school policy as classroom teachers. In this case, it may place the SLPs and students in greater jeopardy.
The American Speech and Language Association (ASHA) has released their guidelines for Speech and Language Pathologist, (SLP) and Audiologist working in the schools. They follow the CDC recommendations on how to create a safe environment as we deal with COVID-19. Local recommendations may be somewhat different depending on what is happening in your local area. I think it is important for SLPs as well as parents who have student’s receiving speech therapy services to be aware of this document as students return to school.
Of course there will be obstacles to overcome. Here are some of the highlights. I hope it encourages you to read the more indepth document; Click on this link here to read the entire ASHA document. Some of the highlights are below.
It is recommended that administrators provide school-based professionals with appropriate PPE such as desktop plexiglass screens, gloves, clear face masks, and eye protection. We are one profession where eye contact and the ability to work with the mouth is important. A cloth face mask will not always be adequate. Children with a hearing disability are one example of where the child needs to see your face. Also the SLP needs to see and hear a child’s voice unmuffled by a face mask for articulation therapy. This means the SLP is not protected well.
The CDC recommends that SLPs work with the same group of children day to day. This would be a major shift from what has been the duties of the SLP. Prior to COVID 19, SLPs often saw multiple students from multiple classrooms, and worked in multiple buildings in a district. They often observe, test students or monitor paraprofessionals in more than one building or classroom. Their schedule is back to back sessions in order to accommodate all the students . Lets just say what was normal scheduling before will not work.
There are new considerations for scheduling that are more time consuming. Students on the SLP, caseload often include the more vulnerable health risks that may need to be seen individually for their safety. There will need to be time in the schedule to sanitize materials. There will need to be increased materials so they are not shared between students when there is more than one student at a time.
The rooms need to be adequate for space and meet sanitary needs. SLPs are often assigned small windowless rooms with inadequate ventilation. In some rooms, there is not enough room for two people to be 4 ft. apart. This means group therapy sessions will not be possible. In some cases two people is too many. I have experienced using the building materials closet, and stage behind the curtain so this is our reality. It is also recommended that there be an area for use of hand sanitizer as students enter and a source for frequent hand washing. Now, we may actually have a valid reason for getting that bigger better equipped room with air circulation.
ASHA did suggest that some places may want to use use tele-therapy to overcome obstacles of time and space. I could see where a combination of services could be employed. The use of digital services has already grown considerably for classrooms and speech therapy. Looking at the brighter side of things. We may be able to implement some practices that will improve services in the future and improve our profession in the schools.