Transitioning to the New School Year

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If you have a school age survivor and you are in the beginning weeks of school or preparing for the start, transitioning to a new year can be daunting task. We enlisted the advice of Katy Bosserman, a special education advocate, on preparing your child and working with the IEP team.

Katy Bosserman has taught special education for 20 years in Maryland Public Schools. She currently serves as a special education advocate where she helps families navigate the IEP process. 

Katy has tips to share on preparing for a back to school IEP team meeting as well as helping your child transition back to school – whether in person, virtual or hybrid

7 helpful ideas to successfully transition back to school either virtually, in person or hybrid!

1. Create an All About Me Book or write an email to the school should include a general introduction, learning strategies, therapy strategies, information about behaviors, information about sensory regulation, executive planning, social interaction, etc. 
You can include things like:

  • physical therapy progress

  • speech and language therapy progress

  • occupational therapy progress

  • social/pragmatic skills

  • sensory regulation ideas

  • executive and planning strategies

The idea here is to provide enough information that the staff are able to jump right into the learning process with your child and begin implementing his or her IEP effectively.

Consider including the following in your introduction:

Hi my name is______.
I am in the____ grade. I live with my________. 
My favorite activities are______.
My favorite sports are______.
I am also really into_________.
My favorite part of school is_______.
My least favorite part of school is_____.
My disability/ies is/are called ________.
I describe having my disability/ies like this: ________.
I take the following medications: ________ which have the following side effects: ________.
I use the following devices: ______.
The more important thing to know about me is_________.   
My Strengths:_________________
Activities I Enjoy:______________

2. Generate a back-to-school email describing how your child is doing with toileting or what the pediatrician said at your last appointment or maybe a change to medication or a new behavior strategy that seems to be working or any new behavior and how you’re addressing them. If teachers get that information at the beginning of the year, they can hit the ground running and really understand your child. That is the key to a great transition and understanding your child. It’s good when children are aware that their teachers understand them and know their interests, their profiles and are interested in what they’re interested in. This makes children feel safe and when they feel safe, they are prepared to learn! As we transition back to school, a lot of children might feel unsafe, they might feel unsettled, they might experience all different kinds of feelings that will inhibit their learning. So, the more that teachers can understand about children the more prepared the children are going to be to learn. You might include a progress update, medical information and maybe a little bit about what your child did over the summer. Also, activities he or she participated in, new interests and some social notes too. Teachers can utilize this information that’s why it’s helpful to communicate. They can also share it with other staff in the building.

3. Get your IEP goals out and write them someplace prominent in your house (like on the refrigerator). You don’t need to write them down word for word because you don’t need them word for word. You need to know that you’re working on simple addition facts under 20 or that you’re working on the second-grade sight word list so you’re just going to write second-grade sight word list; nothing more.

4. Gather tools to work on goals. Then, once you have those out, #4 happens and you’re going to set out things (tools) to work on each goal with. Some parents have a little tiered cart that they use to place the items they will need to work on the specific goals with. That way the cart can be wheeled to wherever it is needed. Place items in the cart that go with the goals when you need it. So, you have your child’s goals on the refrigerator and one day a week you grab the things that you need to work on the goals. That way when you stick something in the oven and it needs 15 minutes to bake, you have 15 minutes where you can work with your child. If you don’t have the goals out and you don’t have stuff out to work on the goals, it’ll take 15 minutes to figure out what you want to do with your child. If you have flash cards, a couple of worksheets, markers, pencils, manipulatives, a ruler and money all in one specific spot in your house where you can keep it out of the way, you can grab a couple of things and say, “hey buddy we’re going to work on this while we wait for dinner to bake.” This way you don’t have to think or organize anything. You don’t have to get anything ready. It’s already there and ready to use!  So, #3 and #4 go together. Three is write the goals and put them someplace so that you remember what they are. Four is set up tools to work on them!

5. Track progress. Next, you want to set up a way that you can keep track of how your child is doing when you’re working with them so you might keep a log or journal or notes. Some parents like to use a spreadsheet and keep something that looks like real data, something that you know you might want to compare with the school’s data. It doesn’t have to be kept that way, but I would definitely set up some system where you can take notes or monitor the progress that your child is making as you work on goals with your child. You can also work with your child on other goals that are a little bit tougher that your child cannot accomplish at school. Maybe he/she sits on your lap and plays with your hair while reading a more difficult book. You certainly don’t want him sitting on his teacher’s lap or sitting on an assistant’s lap and playing with their hair but when he is completely calm by sitting on your lap and playing with your hair and feeling your momma or papa vibe, he might read very well. So, you might actually work on harder books and longer books at home then he usually works on at school and that’s OK.  Obviously, this is something that you would like to see happen at school, but your child has to be ready for that, so you’ve got to figure out how you can get him to experience the progress that he has at home at school. The idea is to get him regulated enough at school that he’s comfortable enough that he can read things that are a little bit more challenging for a little bit more time. So when you’re working on those IEP goals at home you might want to up the ante and work on something entirely different but if it’s going to be pertinent to future IEP team discussions, then you want to set up some way to monitor progress which is what #5 is all a

6. Write down schedules. It is important to get your child prepared for the transition back to school. It’s about preparing your child for the first day of school. Help your child with schedules now before school starts. You might need to write them down. You might need to talk about them. You might need to do picture schedules you might need to start acting out this schedule. Think about how your child learns and how your child receives scheduled information and present it in a way that is meaningful to your child. Whenever any of us are doing something new, we want to know what’s this going to look like? What is the process? When we feel out of control, we don’t function well. Children are going to school and their days are going to change. Their school days are different than their summer days. So, what we need to give to them are approximates of what the schedule is going to look like. So, it might start in the morning where you ask questions like “what time do I have to wake up?” and “am I going to eat breakfast at home or am I going to eat breakfast at school?” “How am I going to get to school? Am I going to ride the bus or am I going to ride with a parent? Where do I go when I get to school? Who might be there to help me get situated?” High schoolers and middle schoolers oftentimes really benefit, especially if they have an executive functioning disorder, from just walking through their day “so, how much time do I have to get between classes? How far is the distance? What stairwell should I use?” All of these things are so important! Another way that you can prepare your child is by working on your morning routine and your after-school routine and your expectations. Articulate the desired outcome. Tell your child before you go someplace how you expect for them to behave or what you expect for them to do.

7. Get things organized. If you’ve got a child that isn’t going to sleep as well and isn’t going to really feel the start of the school year, then clean their room the weekend before school starts and get them involved in that experience. Get your breakfast area set up so that things flow more smoothly, make sure the school supplies are organized. Help them go through their backpack and make sure that they’ve got all the things that they need and that they’ve thrown away all the stuff that they don’t need from last year. Get everything organized so that they feel like they are ready. One mother posted on Instagram that she puts 5 bins under her child’s bed and in each bin, she puts an outfit, including shoes and accessories! That is way more organized than I ever imagined doing things when my own kids were little but how calm your child would feel on Monday morning if their outfit was already picked out and it was already in this little bin and all your child would have to do is slide it out from under the bed, put on their shirt and shoes and pants and they’re set! I thought that was a great idea! So, get things organized that might help your child feel more prepared. Lastly, physically take them to school to meet their teacher and to see their room. This is always helpful if your child’s going to a new school. If they seem to be anxious, then simply call the school and ask because teachers are almost always at school. They might have in-services trainings but the week before school they’re usually there for some reason or another. This could really help make the transition back much smoother for you and your child!

Additional Information


100% safety from COVID-19 is not possible. However, there are many benefits to having a return to in person learning, especially for children with special needs and some of those things are going to be rapid changes family should be prepared for in our evolving situations. Families with children at low risk, are being asked to follow state and local guidelines for a safe return for children. In families with higher risk, some of these children might have an increased risk of COVID-19 and there may be an increased risk for severe illness. Therefore, those children’s parents and caregivers may need to take additional precautions with regard to school. Things you need to consider if the community rate for COVID infection is very low, then a high-risk child could potentially return to school with good social distancing and close monitoring. Anytime the community infection rate is going to significantly rise your child’s safety in the school setting should be reviewed. You should always request the presence of a school nurse at any school meeting, formal or informal. There are similar concerns if a close family member is at a very high risk and there’s a concern that your child may bring any type of infection home.

CDC Parents Toolkit Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools | CDC

Health and Students with IEPs

The Maryland State Department of Education says that students receiving special ed services may be more negatively affected by the distance learning and students with IEPs are going to be more disproportionately impacted by interruptions to our regular education. Therefore, it may not be feasible, depending on the needs of the individual child and adolescent to adhere to both the distancing guidelines and the criteria outlined in your child’s IEP.

We need to think about ways to attempt to meet the physical distancing guidelines because they should meet the needs of the individual child. It’s going to require some creative solutions, and this is going to be a case-by-case situation Because IEP’s are individualized documents, we know that each child is going to need their own consideration. Therefore, some questions that you should be considering are:

  1. Will it be safe for my child to return to in-person learning?

  2. Will my child’s most pressing needs and their capabilities be supported?

  3. Recognizing that some services may not be available or modified in-person or virtually, what are creative ways to supply supports and encourage progress?

In this exceptional time, close communication with the school staff and family is going to be critical.

So, the way to identify issues, needed accommodations or additional supports  early is to collaborate to find reasonable solutions. I would suggest that trying to go back to do things the “normal” way will not be easy and there are going to be rough spots. Students are going to do better when families and school staff and administration are working together. This means being creative and recognizing that past approaches might not even work right now. Each party needs to be reasonable in working in the best interest of the child.


U.S. Department of Education Releases “Return to School Roadmap” to Support Students, Schools, Educators, and Communities in Preparing for the 2021-2022 School Year | U.S. Department of Education

“For example,
if your child has an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or 504 Plan or receives other learning, mental health, or behavioral supports, make sure to speak with your child’s teacher about ensuring that your child continues to receive appropriate services in the upcoming school year. Consult with the IEP team and request a meeting to discuss changes, if necessary, in your child’s IEP.
If you believe that your child has new needs that should be addressed, share those with your child’s teacher, so that together, you and the IEP team can develop a revised IEP to help your child receive what they need to be successful.

Throughout the pandemic, you have been more involved than ever in your child’s daily education. You may have learned a lot about strategies for supporting your child’s learning. Talk with your child’s teacher about the things that seemed to work best and the ways to continue those practices during in-person learning.” -A Resource for Parents on Returning to In-Person Learning from the US Dept of Education

The American Rescue Plan includes $122 billion through the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund to help schools prevent COVID-19 transmission and recover from its effects. With the help of these vital federal funds, states and districts are taking steps that will keep students safe, and help parents and families feel even more confident in sending their children to school for in-person learning. Among many other uses, states and districts may use these funds to:

  • Invest in resources to implement guidance and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to keep students, educators, and staff safe; improve ventilation; purchase personal protective equipment (PPE); or obtain additional space, for example;

  • Hire additional school personnel, such as nurses and custodial staff, to help keep schools healthy and safe;

  • Provide for physical distancing and safety protocols on school buses; and

  • Implement strategies to meet the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students—especially those who have been most affected by the pandemic—including through evidence-based programs and by connecting students to wrap-around services and other supports.

A Resource for Parents on Returning to In-Person Learning from the US Department of Education

For more information, contact Katy Bosserman, M.Ed., Creative Learning Experiences, 410-459-3774.

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