On her first day returning to school, Meryam, a second-grade student with special needs at Vandalia Elementary School in Porterville, ran out of her home and kissed the bus.

Meryam is now able to take advantage of in-person learning twice a week. She's among the Special Services AcCEL students across Tulare County who have been allowed to return to school under state guidelines. Porterville Unified School District has been providing in-person instruction for students with special needs for a while now.

State guidelines released in late August allow districts the flexibility to identify select students to receive targeted in-person instruction.

Over the past few weeks, the Tulare County Office of Education's Special Services’ AcCEL Program has worked closely with school districts to bring students in small classes back to school at 19 Tulare County school sites. The classes average between four and six students at more than a dozen elementary schools and other schools. Instruction is offered for two to three hours each days.

To prepare for the transition to in-person instruction, the AcCEL management team considered student needs, class sizes, schedules, and developed individual plans for each school site. The planning also included transportation schedules and school access.

Comprehensive protocols were developed for AcCEL staff to address social distancing, personal protective equipment for students and staff, the monitoring of student temperatures, hand washing, and what to do if a student develops COVID-19 symptoms at school. Teachers and staff developed a plan to offer in-person learning for students at school while at the same time providing distance learning for students who have returned to school.

“Our AcCEL staff has worked tirelessly since the schools closed in March,” said AcCEL Administrator Sarah Hamilton. “They have always been skilled at modifying and adapting to meet the needs of their students, but what they have done with virtual instruction, hands-on materials, and work packets has been remarkable.

“We commend them while also thanking the parents who have been supporting their children’s instruction these many months. It has been a joy for us to watch our students learn through virtual instruction, and now an even bigger joy to bring them back for in-person instruction.”

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