Kansas School for the Deaf

Long brick building with white window frames and a white cupolaKansas School for the Deaf (KSD) serves as a center-based educational option to provide a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (i.e., the most accessible environment) to students who are D/HH throughout Kansas. Additionally, KSD has an Outreach department to serve as a statewide resource center for students, families, agencies, programs, and educational placements serving students who are D/HH in their local school districts. Through CEASD and Kansas Education Systems Accreditation, KSD is an accredited school which is committed to the education of students who are D/HH. The current enrollment of students attending the campus-based program is 150. Approximately 350 students are served through the Outreach services statewide. Our 159-year history of educational services has ensured that thousands of students and youth who are D/HH have become active, productive, and independent citizens of the state. Over the years, our services have continuously improved to meet the changing needs of education and society.

Prior to March 2020

This was a normal school year where the learning happened through actual interactions between teachers, students and staff on campus. When the students left for spring break, they looked forward to beginning the 4th quarter and were anticipating the end of the school year activities. The announcement they would not return to school came unexpectedly at the end of spring break. To this point, the experience that our classroom teachers and students had with the online learning/communication was limited to using classroom apps (Google Classroom, Google Hangouts, Seesaw, Bloomz, IXL, etc.) for grades 3 and up. No formal training had been given for using the classroom apps for intensive online learning. The shift from an actual classroom learning environment to a full digitalized instructional approach was completely unanticipated.

During March-June 2020

As a result of COVID-19 and the closing of school buildings, school districts had to apply to waive 2019-2020 attendance requirements in order to receive exemption from KSA 72-3115. (1,116 attendance hours for all students). One week after the announcement of shelter in place, both the waiver and Continuous Learning Plan (CLP) were submitted to the Kansas Board of Ed. for their approval. Beginning March 30, 2020, the CLP was implemented right away. Continuous learning opportunities were provided for our students while they were at home. This entailed shifting from the brick and mortar environment to a digitalized instructional approach which required access to the Internet. For our students who did not have internet access in their homes, their local school districts ensured that they would receive access to it in their homes to allow them to continue with their learning.

During the first week, our instructional staff learned how much students could handle independently, and they tweaked expectations and lesson demands as this process continued. Zoom and Google Hangouts (live interaction) were used for small group/individual instruction or discussion. A daily schedule was established for consistency and convenience to be easier to remember when to meet online. Families were contacted to schedule times for this part of continuous learning. Language Facilitators joined these Zoom meetings as well to provide spoken English support for specific students who have not fully developed academic ASL communication skills.

We partnered with families and communities to support our students’ learning while they were at home and to ensure they had stable internet access and food through their school districts.

How the School Rose to the Challenge

Everyone pitched in to help out during the end of spring break. While teachers prepared CLP lessons, the Student Life staff and paraeducators packed all of the students’ personal belongings, along with the Chromebooks and dropped them off at sites where parents/students could pick them up. Care packages were also sent with their belongings. Student Life staff checked in with students to provide extended academic and socio-emotional support during the evenings. Regular conversations with students on current events, family news, and various topics occurred.

Several videos were created that initiated the discussions between the SL staff and students. Related services staff at KSD consists of occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), speech/language therapy (SLP), counseling, audiology services, and student health services. Staff worked within the KSD CLP to ensure that support and therapies continued for our students during this time. Through Outreach services, districts reached out to KSD to support their CLPs at the local level. KSD provided online resources via the KSD website. Additionally, districts requested that their students be included in KSD’s CLP as part of their educational program during the fourth quarter.

Where the School is Now

During a two-day retreat for administrative staff that was held in late May, time was utilized to reflect on the successes and challenges of implementing the CLP, reviewing the CDC’s considerations for schools, and the Kansas State Department of Education’s plan to work on another guidance document. It was determined that we develop a plan now focusing mainly on precaution measures, sanitation, professional development, mental health support for students and staff, what the first week of school will look like, classroom guidance/support and schedules, transportation and much more. As soon as we receive guidance from KSDE, we will ensure that our plan aligns with it. KSDE staff and service center staff are collaborating on the resource document. The document will be presented to the board at their July meeting, and if approved, it will be available to school districts in July.

The superintendent conferred with the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment and determined that KSD could proceed with a live, in-person graduation ceremony which was held Monday, June 22nd. Having an in-person graduation, especially the opportunity to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, was the one and only request made by the Class of 2020. We followed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure the safety of all of our seniors and their families and friends while enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime milestone with them. We are currently offering virtual ESY and a virtual Family ASL Immersion Camp.

Looking Ahead

Because of this experience during the 4th quarter (our last day was May 22nd), surveys were sent out to parents, students, teachers and those providing related services to our students to help as we reflect on what worked and what did not work. As of today, the plan is for schools to reopen in the fall for the 2020-2021 school year, however, that could change. No matter what is decided, the lingering impact of COVID-19 will impact the opening in a variety of ways. We are committed to supporting our students, teachers, and staff with all the tools we have at our disposal so that learning and growth will continue. We will be prepared for any scenario that comes our way in the fall.

Superintendent: Luanne Barron