The Texas School for the Deaf (TSD) provides educational services to students, ages zero to 22, who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. Through its Statewide Outreach Center, TSD provides a variety of educational services to families, students, programs and professionals throughout the state working with and for persons who are deaf and hard of hearing. TSD is accredited by the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD). During the 2019-2020 school year, TSD provided educational services to 556 students.
Prior to March 2020
Prior to our mandated state closing in March, all instructional, related and support services were provided in person on the school’s Austin campus. The exception to that was TSD’s Statewide Outreach services which continually provides online learning across the state. One of our more popular online programs is our ASL storytelling which supports districts with deaf and hard of hearing across the state. Other remote learning programs include Family Signs, and a lesson plan library available to teachers of the deaf in mainstream and regional programs.
During March-June 2020
TSD set a goal to have in place and ready to implement its instructional continuity plan before the last day of spring break. Although launched in stages, by the end of March, all students were participating in their learning virtually. TSD staff and students of all ages explored new ways to connect with each other using online platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom, and FlipGrid. A recent survey found that parents felt their children fared well with at-home learning. A high number of respondents indicated that communication with teachers was helpful.
Believing communication is vital to the community, TSD created the COVID-19 website, a centralized hub for updates and important resources (e.g. food, education, and family) to keep parents, staff, and the community informed about COVID-19. Superintendent updates were provided in English, Spanish, and ASL. TSD also utilized social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
How the School Rose to the Challenge
Although the COVID-19 pandemic was closely monitored in early March, the effect it had on staff and students was profound. What helped us through this unprecedented event was our teachers and staff’s creative non-traditional approach in connecting with their students for online learning. For example, residential dorm staff found creative ways to connect with their students in the evenings with games and social interaction, teacher aides provided sign language classes to parents via social media platforms and counselors, SLPs, PTs and OTs launched tele-therapy sessions to help anchor students in this uncharted territory.
A recent survey found the majority of respondents indicated their child had the necessary access to technology devices and internet for at-home learning. If a student did not have computer access, our teachers sent paper packets. In isolated situations we were successful in helping families connect to internet providers offering free services.
Additionally, by partnering with our LEAs we were able to offer our students access to free lunches in their communities. Our HR department pivoted on a dime when TSD closed and set up required work from home plans for all staff. This enabled us to access COVID-19 emergency leave and keep our staff on the payroll. Additionally, we became Zoom aficionados with heavy lifting from our interpreting department at every step in this journey.
Where the School is Now
Soon after school ended, TSD sought feedback from parents on at-home learning during the COVID-19 closure and their thoughts on reopening school. The survey found that although there is concern of their child being exposed to COVID-19, 91% of the respondents want their children back at school full-time. When asked to identify problems with at-home learning, some indicated challenges with teaching the content like the teacher and balancing their own work and helping their child with their education. TSD has had nine reopening teams working around the clock setting plans in place for our scheduled reopening on August 17th. We will also be offering a hybrid ESY program in mid-July which will allow us to test some our new protocols from our teams.
Lessons Learned: The survey conducted soon after school ended provides a list of improvements the school needs to implement in order to better meet the needs of our students, parents, and families during the next school year. Among those improvements is adopt a learning management system that is more robust in order to deliver a more effective online learning.
Superintendent: Claire Bugen