With many schools once again in-person, administrators will encounter various challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis. While teachers and educational therapists endeavor to resolve these concerns, many have not acknowledged a new consideration that may affect their daily interactions with students: long COVID.
Long COVID refers to the continuation of symptoms that affect children, adolescents, and adults well after recovering from this illness. “Long haulers,” or those who live with long-term COVID-19 syndrome, experience common symptoms including:
- Fatigue and brain fog
- Difficulty breathing
- Joint/chest pain
- Memory, thinking, or concentration issues
- Sleep problems
- Muscle pain or headache
- Mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression
- Various physical conditions
According to Jason Maley, Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Program Director of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Critical Illness and COVID-19 Survivorship Program, an estimated two to over twenty percent of individuals suffer from these symptoms over a span that can last three to six months–or even beyond.
Without question, long COVID has had a significant effect on education and the workplace. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) issued guidance in July 2021 about addressing the needs of those affected by these issues.
According to this publication, students who demonstrate these symptoms may be eligible to receive special education, related, and pediatric therapy services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504. The guidance states:
If these symptoms persist in the form of long COVID, these children or students may need new or different related aids and services, specialized instruction, or reasonable modifications. Other children or students may be found eligible for services under IDEA and/or Section 504 for the first time because of the adverse impact of long COVID on the child’s educational achievement and functioning (IDEA) or if long COVID substantially limits one or more of the student’s major life activities (Section 504).
This publication further states that schools must also consider long COVID as a component of the Child Find requirement of IDEA. Schools must also follow the outlined procedures for identification and eligibility for special education and 504 services.
How To Accommodate Students With Long COVID
Administrators must identify students and staff that may need specific accommodations. Specifically, students may need individualized learning adaptations, and staff, teachers, and educational therapists may require specialized adjustments to fulfill their teaching obligations effectively.
School staff should complete evaluations and implement the necessary modifications and accommodations to address individual students’ needs. Students should be able to access school-age educational and postsecondary programs equivalent to those of their unaffected peers.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of developing backup plans to address possible issues, such as:
- Student and staff absences
- Adjustment to instructional pace
- Usage of school nurse staff
- Communication and follow-up with parents and community members
- Establishing a 504 and Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTII) process
Preparation: The Key to a Successful School Year
During a regular school year, an administrator’s job is already difficult enough. However, administrators must now become even more vigilant and flexible. Not only should they maneuver the COVID-19 Delta variant surge’s unique obstacles, but school leaders must also address the possibility that students and staff may experience side effects.
Remember, preparation is the key to providing successful solutions in a timely and efficient manner. Despite the many challenges facing school administrators, I adamantly believe that they will rise to the occasion and that this school year will be extraordinary for both students and staff.
What are the challenges of keeping schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic? Find out here!
Ann Marie Geissel, M.Ed., ABD
Therapy Source National Special Education Director
Ann Marie has 30+ years of special education experience, as a teacher, principal, special education supervisor, and special education director within urban, suburban school districts and charter schools. Her background and qualifications make her well-positioned to assist Therapy Source’s education clients with compliance monitoring and daily operation. Ann Marie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education from LaSalle University, and a Master of Education in Special Education from Arcadia University. Additionally, she has been certified as a principal and special education advisor – and possesses a Letter of Eligibility for Superintendent – through Temple University’s and Widener University’s Doctoral Programs in Educational Administration.