Authors: The School Speech Therapist
To all you Speech Language Pathologists working with unreasonable caseloads now is the time to advocate for yourselves and your students. Think a lot about this as the guidelines for the “new normal” start coming out in every state.
This week in Massachusetts the guidelines for what school is going to look like were released. It pretty much encompasses what I expected it would. Earlier guidelines came out for summer opening only a couple of weeks ago. Both these documents provide very generic guidelines and both read as if the people who wrote them have never spent a day working in a public schools or even remember going to school. Again it is one more document that clearly shows that they do not know the role of the SLP in schools and how we work with kids.
According to what I read, here are some take-aways from the guidelines:
- Physical distancing-Students should be kept 3-6 feet away from each other and all face the same way. I don’t know about you but I have never been put in a space where social distancing was possible with a small group of 3-4 students.
- Limiting travel within a school-We have to pick up and return kids, we travel around the building constantly. I wonder if we are even going to be able to see kids in small groups.
- Based on what I read it appears that we would have to use a mask and a shield because face it we work closely with kids and spit flies
- We need to prepare for remote learning just in case. Well I did get a little experience with that during this last shut down. The three factors that seemed to be the biggest problems were my lack of training, not enough time to see everyone (since on line sessions have to have time cushions on each side and small groups are really not feasible) and lack of materials. I was able to convert many of my materials to on line but that took a lot of time. Will teachers and therapists be given the time to basically develop a whole new curriculum or find/buy/create new on line material? Will schools pony up for the cost? (As a side note, which has bothered me since shut down. Where, are the common core people on this? If common core is so great and so important why don’t we have an on line version with materials ready to go. Schools have incurred considerable costs trying to piece something together to get through the year. Why doesn’t the department of education have an on line platform ready to go? Not that I want this since I am not a fan of common core but really why does every school district in the country have to reinvent the wheel during a crisis?)
I think that those 4 points alone will make it impossible to service extremely large caseloads. Now is the time to approach your administrators and talk about your concerns not in the fall because they will be totally overwhelmed.
Beyond the 4 points mentioned above I have some personal concerns you might also want to point out
- How am I going to clean my materials and my room? Does the room need to be sanitized after each student or group? Where is the time to do this if your schedule is back to back? Will someone be hired to help with this? Will you be given adequate cleaning supplies that actually kill germs and absorb? Where is the nearest water supply to wash hands and help with cleaning? Say you regularly see 8-10 groups a day and you work in the office in between when is this cleaning suppose to take place?
- How effective can Speech Language Pathologists be with everyone in masks? I think that is a valid question. How do you work on articulation and pragmatics when you are wearing masks? Is it possible to just wear shields during therapy?
- Masks add a layer of distraction and your perception can be a little off both to the sides and down. This will affect all learning and coordination for some.
- Scheduling will be next to impossible, yet we will be on the hook if the IEP isn’t followed. Specifically ask you administrator what is expected and ask them to make a schedule for you. This is something I recommend all the time and it is the only way school admin will ever know the obstacles we face. Be very candid about the time you will need for assessments, IEPs. progress notes and added cleaning. Assessments will be up this year because many were skipped during the shut down.
- If kids don’t come to school every day, what will services look like? Can IEPs be followed if the student is not in school everyday? Will IEPs need to be rewritten?
- On line therapy seems to be the best thing since sliced bread. It is a good alternative but it has its limitations. There is no way I was as effective especially without experience, training and resources. On line therapy has been around for years, it’s a specialty area. It really hasn’t taken off like you would have expect to and there is a reason for that. So much of what we do needs to be hands on. One point that was sorely overlooked during the covid shutdown is that when you do on line therapy there needs to be another adult either with the student to facilitate/monitor or another team member in the session with you. Every in-service I have listened to has pointed this out as a safety measure.
No, I would not want to be the one who have to put any state guidelines together and I do understand why it has to be done. The guidelines from Massachusetts looks impressive, citing almost 4 pages of research but I always question the validity of the research. Is the research they used to come up with the guidelines reliable? I hope so but that doesn’t always happen with research especially now when there is so much question with the covid data and numbers overall. Could the guidelines be picked apart? Easily. Do the guidelines often contradict each other? At times. I think it will be interesting to see how guidelines vary from state to state.
Speech Language Pathologists will not be able to function in the same way given the “new normal”. We as a profession should be deciding how we do our job along with what makes a reasonable caseload (within the guidelines being presented) and not let school administration tell us what our jobs will be. I believe the guidelines are somewhat generic so schools have some leeway on how things are implemented. Just note if you were handling a caseload say even above 30 before covid, you will have a challenging time meeting the needs and the IEPs of these same 30 kids. You may be doing both in school and on line therapy. Department of Education will get around to looking at what was provided and what wasn’t. When that day comes it will not be pretty. Just make sure you keep in touch with your administration on what you are able to provide within the limitations of a school day (whatever that looks like at your school) and documented it. Say NO if you can’t take on more or can’t manage with the new restrictions. When possible provide administration with solutions that might work. Work as a team with other speech language pathologists in the district. I rarely see this happen but when it does it is a very good thing.
We will get through this, no choice we have to. However, how you get through this is up to you. I feel being proactive will make the situation a little bit better in the long run and your position in schools stronger. Working with other SLPs in your district will frankly give you more autonomy and a bigger voice. It is up to you to advocate for yourself and the students you service.