DHS Highlights Research in Best Practices for Transitions for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Autism, Mental Health and Behavioral Challenges (October 5, 2021)

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) recently released the latest issue of the Positive Approaches Journal, which aims to provide the most recent research and resources for people with mental health and behavioral challenges, intellectual disabilities, autism, and other developmental disabilities to live an everyday life. This edition focuses on transitions and how they affect the populations DHS serves.

“Part of DHS’ mission is to ensure that people, regardless of disability, have the resources and information they need to live an everyday life. We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused upheaval among individuals, families, and health systems, and that transitions to and from social distancing measures can cause great stress among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Acting DHS Secretary Meg Snead. “We hope that this edition of the Positive Approaches Journal will provide some insight into best practices and methods so we can all work together to ensure that the people we serve can be better off as we continue to navigate the pandemic and many other life transitions.”

This edition features research and articles on the following:

  • Effectively Utilizing the Space Between What Was and What Will Be: This article advocates for a Person-Centered approach to transition planning and provides a case study from the LifeCourse Framework on a successful transition back to community activities following social distancing protocols during COVID-19.
  • Using Goal Attainment Scaling to Measure Progress and Make Instructional Decisions: This article reviews the concept of Goal Attainment Scaling for standardizing and measuring outcomes for an individual’s goals, as well as setting reasonable expectations for the progress an individual will make towards achieving that goal.
  • Moving in the Same Direction: A Case Study of How Integrated Care Can Support Independence and Community Living for Individuals with Complex Needs: This article highlights the successes that are possible for individuals presenting with complex challenges when stakeholders are committed to open communication and coordination, and when systems support innovation in programming.
  • My Life, My Way: After the Pandemic: Let’s Talk with A Self-Advocate: This article includes interviews with 11 self-advocates and four family member-facilitators and encourages self-advocates to use their voices in meetings and events that affect their lives.
  • A Win/Win: Using Both Personal Spiritual Strength to Heal and Experiencing Post-Traumatic Growth to Heal with a Transition and Reintegration in Sight: This article looks into the role that trauma plays in transitioning and reintegrating back into the community and how supporting spirituality along with mental health recovery can help individuals.
  • Use of Remote Monitoring to Positively Impact Individuals by Removing the Struggle Between the Person and Their Supports: This article highlights how remote monitoring and other positive strategies can be implemented to support people with intellectual disabilities or dual diagnoses.

The journal is a collaboration of DHS’ Office of Developmental Programs and Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and collects research on resources, observations, and advancements in mental and behavioral health in order to better serve people in their communities. 

Read this edition of the Positive Approaches Journal.

For more information visit www.dhs.pa.gov.

Gov. Wolf Announces $20 Million to Help Schools and Libraries Close Digital Divide (October 4, 2021)

On October 1, 2021, Governor Wolf announced that $20.57 million has been awarded to 126 school entities and libraries in the first wave of funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), and reminded schools that the second application window is now open.

Created through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund is considered the nation’s largest single effort to ensure students have access to the digital devices and resources they need for the school year. The program will also help libraries offer their patrons internet connectivity and digital devices to continue their learning at home.

A total of $20.5 million was awarded to 126 applicants including 86 school districts, 29 schools, and 11 libraries. Of the total, $15.7 million will be used for equipment and $4.9 million will be directed to securing internet service. Additional funding from the first and second ECF application cycles will be released weekly until all applications have been reviewed.

Applications for the second round of this program are being accepted until October 13, 2021. During the application filing window, eligible schools, libraries, and consortia of eligible schools and libraries, can submit requests for funding to purchase eligible equipment and services between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022. Those who applied for the first round and have additional unmet needs are eligible to reapply.

Eligible applicants should apply at www.emergencyconnectivityfund.org.

The ECF is a program created to help eligible schools and libraries close the digital divide and homework gap. The ECF, administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is a $7.17 billion temporary program that will help cover costs associated with digital devices such as laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use by students, educators, and library patrons who currently lack sufficient access to broadband and connected devices. ECF will fund digital devices up to $400 per device.

“Public libraries play a key role in providing communities with access to the digital world and educational resources,” said Secretary of Education Dr. Noe Ortega. “I am delighted to see that libraries will be able to continue this work through the ECF Program and am proud of the libraries that have received resources on the first wave of funding.”

For more information, visit the ECF website.

PDE Releases Contingency Funds for Extraordinary Expenses Memo (October 3, 2021)

On October 1, 2021, PDE Bureau of Special Education Director Carole L. Clancy disseminated  PennLink message to local educational agencies (LEAs) titled Contingency Funds for Extraordinary Expenses. The memo states that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) will begin accepting applications for the Special Education Contingency Funds for Extraordinary Expenses on November 22, 2021. 

The fund’s purpose is to provide additional state funding for the implementation of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a student with significant disabilities. Interested LEAs will have until January 07, 2022, to apply.

The application and review process for the 2021-2022 school year is specified in the Contingency Funds Guidelines.  Applications for the Special Education Contingency Funds must be submitted electronically through the contingency funds request system website at https://apps.leaderservices.com/cfunds.  LEAs that have not previously used the system may request a password from Leader Services by emailing cfunds@leaderservices.com.  Once the LEA’s address is verified, a password will be issued, along with the information regarding the primary account.

Questions regarding Special Education Contingency Funds for Extraordinary Expenses should be directed to Janette Fulton, Special Education Adviser, Division of Analysis and Financial Reporting, at 717.425.5442 or janfulton@pa.gov

State Officials Provide Update On Strategy To Protect In-Person Instruction At Schools (September 30, 2021)

On September 30, 2021, continuing to prioritize in-person instruction for K-12 students in Pennsylvania, the departments of Education, Health and Transportation discussed the state’s strategy to address a shortage of school bus drivers, and provided updates on the anticipated rollout of the vaccine for those age 5-11, and COVID testing in schools.

“Across Pennsylvania, students are excited to be back in the classroom, learning and growing and playing alongside their classmates,” said Education Secretary Dr. Noe Ortega. “Our schools and students are resilient, and under the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic, this has been a good start to the school year. I thank the students, parents and communities for working together and finding creative solutions so students can remain in the classroom, where it’s vital for them to be.”

Hiring more school bus drivers

The nationwide shortage of school bus drivers is affecting many school districts in Pennsylvania. To address the need, school districts can use federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to reimburse parents or guardians to safely transport their students to and from in-person school.

PennDOT is reaching out to approximately 375,000 drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in the state about the immediate need for drivers and how to get the correct endorsements for a school bus license. 

PennDOT will also temporarily expand its days of operation to offer CDL skills testing at 23 locations throughout the state to include Mondays for four weeks beginning October 18. The additional day will make the process more convenient for potential drivers to complete the process faster. To schedule a CDL skills test, either visit the Driver and Vehicle Services website or call 717-412-5300. Additionally, certain third-party businesses are certified by PennDOT to administer the road test for a market-driven fee.

“PennDOT is committed to ensuring safe transportation for students,” Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Kurt Myers said. “We urge CDL licensees who are seeking work or supplemental employment to obtain a school bus endorsement – taking advantage of the additional hours for CDL testing – to help transport students safely.” 

For anyone wishing to become a bus driver, the first step is obtaining initial issuance of a CDL. Anyone 18 years or older may obtain the School Bus and Passenger endorsements on a CDL to obtain a school bus license. For a list of steps and forms to obtain a CDL and the school bus endorsement, please visit the Driver and Vehicle Services website under School Bus Drivers.

Vaccine in children ages 5 to 11

Currently, students 12 and older are eligible and encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This week, Pfizer submitted its application to the federal government for approval to administer vaccine to children between 5 and 11 years old. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) review and approval process is anticipated to take several weeks, school districts are encouraged to contact local vaccine providers to schedule on-site vaccination clinics.

“It’s very encouraging that more than half-a-million school-aged kids are already vaccinated,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “We know that vaccinations are one of the best ways to prevent illness due to COVID-19 and help keep students learning in-person. That’s why we encourage everyone eligible to get vaccinated and we encourage schools to help make it as convenient as possible. It’s not too early to schedule a vaccine clinic in November in anticipation of federal approval for kids between 5 and 11.”

For eligible adolescents in Pennsylvania, 21.9 percent of children ages 12-14 are fully vaccinated and 42.6 percent of children ages 15-19 are fully vaccinated.

“The vaccination numbers continue to increase,” Beam said noting that vaccine providers must be connecting with schools as suggested last month. “In the past week, DOH has helped to connect a school in Erie and one in Pittsburgh to vaccine providers in the region.”

Last month, an order by the Acting Secretary of Health directed vaccine providers to coordinate vaccine clinics with schools for the employees, contractors, volunteers, students, or students’ families of the school. The clinics can be held at the school or a location agreed upon by the school and vaccine provider. If a provider is unable to coordinate a vaccination clinic with the school, the provider is responsible for directing the school to the Department of Health to be provided with contact information for other vaccine providers.

K-12 classroom testing program

There are 396 schools using the 100-percent federally-funded COVID-19 testing program the Wolf Administration launched for the start of this school year to provide safer in-person environments for students, teachers and staff. The pooled testing program is part of a larger strategy that schools are using including vaccination, physical distancing, facilities improvements, masks/face coverings, and hand hygiene to reduce the spread of the virus and keep students learning in classrooms.

“In the past week, more than 800 tests have been conducted in schools across the state through this free initiative,” Beam said. “The combination of on-going testing, masking and vaccinations will help keep students learning in the classroom.”

Schools can opt-in to participate in the free COVID-19 testing program at any time. The Department of Health is encouraging all schools to take advantage of this free testing program.

Early detection of COVID-19 cases in schools can help school officials take action that will help keep schools open and students in classrooms and participating in extracurricular activities. A key part of the testing program is the quick turnaround time for testing results, which is one to two days after testing. This allows schools to quickly identify if they have positive cases and to take action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the school and mitigate a possible school shutdown.

To support schools in the event a student tests positive for COVID-19, visit PDE’s website to access information on responding to COVID-19 cases in schools.

PDE Seeks Public Comments on Proposed Charter School Regulations through October 18 (September 30, 2021)

Randy Seely, Chief of PDE’s Division of Charter Schools released a PennLink titled Accepting Public Comments on Proposed Charter School Regulations through October 18.

On September 18, 2021, PDE’s proposal to add Chapter 713 (regulations relating to charter schools and cyber charter schools) to Title 22 of the Pennsylvania Code was published in the PA Bulletin, initiating a 30-day public comment period.

All local education agencies are encouraged to view the proposed regulation and to submit comments to PDE. Public comments may be submitted during a 30-day window beginning September 18 through October 18. The proposed regulations clarify six areas of Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law:

Charter school applications requirement: Establishes requirements for applications to open a charter school, allowing school districts authorizing brick and mortar charter schools and PDE authorizing cyber charter schools to hold the schools to high academic, fiscal and administrative standards; ensures charter schools will equitably serve all students; and provides consistent application expectations.

Non-discriminatory enrollment policies: Requires charter schools to post their non-discrimination enrollment policy on their website and in the student application so families and taxpayers know how admission preferences are considered and weighted.

Boards of Trustees ethics standards: Clarifies that charter school trustees are subject to the state’s Public Official and Employee Ethics Act, addresses conflicts of interest, and sets penalties for violations. The same requirements already apply to school districts.

Financial and auditing standards: Requires charter schools to use common accounting principles and auditing standards as school districts already do. This will make reviewing annual reports and financial records easier for school districts and PDE.

Redirection process clarification: Outlines the process to reconcile disputes over school district payments to charter schools for student tuition.

Charter school employee health care benefits parity: Ensures charter school staff have adequate health care. The charter school law requires charter schools provide the same health care benefits as the authorizing school district. The regulation clarifies that when a charter school serves more than one school district, the school district in which the charter school’s administrative office is located is the district of comparison.

Public comments can be submitted in two ways: Emailed to RA-EdCharterRegs@pa.gov or mailed to: Division of Charter Schools, Department of Education, 333 Market Street, Harrisburg, PA 17126.

As required by state law, all comments submitted on the proposed regulation will be shared with the House and Senate Education Committees and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) to assist in their review of the regulation. (Please note that IRRC posts all comments on its website exactly as they are submitted and does not remove or redact any information, including name, address, email, phone numbers, etc.).

Questions about the regulation should be sent to RA-EdCharterRegs@pa.gov.