5 virus-related terms to know before heading back to school

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't just changed how schools operate, but has also required educators to expand their vocabulary. Brush up on five terms that will come up in conversations with colleagues or during IEP meetings.
By: | June 18, 2020

Educating students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic may feel like learning an entirely new language — in more ways than one. As administrators, teachers, and service providers adapt to changes, they find themselves using new vocabulary. Terms like “social distancing,” “self-isolation,” and “pandemic” have become commonplace since the novel coronavirus became headline news. Educators learned that “virtual school” and “remote instruction” are not the same thing, and that the services they provided in spring 2020 probably don’t qualify as “home instruction” or “homebound services” under federal law.

Regardless of whether schools open for in-person instruction this fall, or districts opt to continue distance learning, educators will need to understand terminology relating to COVID-19. Familiarize yourself and your staff with the following terms by the start of the SY 2020-21.

1. CARES Act. This is an abbreviation for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2020. It includes provisions that allow for waivers of Elementary and Secondary Education Act accountability requirements and provides $13.5 billion in supplemental funding for K-12 education through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Administrators can expect to hear about CARES Act, GEER, and ESSER during meetings about budgets and school funding.

2. Contact tracing. This is a disease control measure used by local and state health department personnel to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Public health staff work with infected individuals to help them recall everyone with whom they had close contact with while infectious, then warn those contacts of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible. Educators may hear this term during staff meetings about school safety or during discussions about student privacy in the event a student tests positive for COVID-19.

3. Face mask. This is a generic term for any commercially produced or homemade mask worn over the nose and mouth to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. It can refer to face coverings, surgical masks, and N95 respirators. Discussions about the use of face masks could come up in return-to-school planning and also during IEP or Section 504 team meetings.

4. Pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome. This is a rare condition in children that may be associated with the virus that causes COVID-19. It generally involves the swelling of multiple parts of the body. A child with this condition may exhibit fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, fatigue, and localized pain. Parents of students with disabilities may raise concerns about pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome during discussions about student health or placements for the upcoming school year, especially if their children are medically fragile or are at greater risk for COVID-19.

5. Teletherapy. This refers to the use of videoconferencing software to deliver speech, occupational, or mental health therapy services when those services cannot be provided in person. Educators who participate in IEP and Section 504 team meetings may already be familiar with this term. Team members may mention teletherapy when discussing the appropriateness of the related services a student received when schools were closed in spring 2020 or when planning for possible school closures in the upcoming school year.

Amy E. Slater, Esq., covers special education legal issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.

Links to related documents, including “STATE-BY-STATE: Estimated CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund allocation levels.,” are available to Special Ed Connection subscribers.