DC used $7 million of relief funds to support students with disabilities in the aftermath of COVID-19

D.C. has invested over $7 million in federal stimulus relief funding to help support students with disabilities, according to city leaders.

Some of that funding has been used to help more educators learn about working with special education students, and another chunk funded the launch of the D.C. Special Education Hub, which helps students and families navigate making decisions about things such as learning plans.

The efforts come as school divisions nationwide work to help students with disabilities remain on track in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The Special Education Hub, which launched in August 2022, offers one-on-one assistance for students with disabilities. It was established using $1.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act money and is an extension of the D.C. Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education.

Hannah Blumenfeld-Love, program manager for the Special Education Hub, said it hosts in-person and online trainings, operates a hotline that families can use to ask questions, and has digital and hard copy resources available for families.

Inquiries vary, Blumenfeld-Love said, and sometimes involve walking a family through a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) to make sure they understand all aspects of it.

Since it launched, the Hub has helped 781 families, according to city data provided to WTOP. It has hosted over 50 trainings and community events, and over 14,000 visitors have logged on to receive digital or hard copy resources.

“What really feels like a win is hearing the relief from families,” Blumenfeld-Love told WTOP. “There have been so many situations where I’m talking to a parent after a training, and they tell me, ‘I felt so overwhelmed and after speaking with the Special Education Hub, I feel like a whole new person.’ One time, we had a family member tell us that she felt like we had helped to ‘reinflate her balloon.’”

The Office for the State Superintendent of Education said it’s also working to expand the number of D.C. teachers who have a special education credential. Last year, it started promoting the Special Education Micro-Credential and the Special Education Endorsement Recovery Initiative, which city leaders say helps teachers better serve students with disabilities.

Teachers are eligible for up to $1,500 in incentive pay if they finish the program.

As of July, 228 teachers had enrolled in the micro-credential pathway, and 205 enrolled in the endorsement recovery initiative.

Samiyyah Blanford, who teaches second grade at C.W. Harris Elementary School, said her experience in the program helped her better understand how to teach all students in her classroom.

She described learning about IEPs, and how to read 504 plans and other legal documents. It also helped her learn about collaborating to best assist students, she said.

“You’re working with special education coordinators, case manager, occupational therapist, a speech therapist, you’re working with so many people,” Blanford said. “When you’re in this program, you learn about what (role) each person played in part of this one particular child.”

One mom of a D.C. student spoke to WTOP through a translator and said city leaders helped her son get an IEP in place, offering him learning opportunities in small group settings, where she said he thrives.

“His teachers, they advocated for him,” she said. “They focused on the needs of my child.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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