Since COVID-19 first hit the United States, there’s been a lot of unknowns for the special education industry: day school facility closings; remote learning; residential program continuity; tuition payment issues; safety protocols; transportation funding; and return to campus logistics.
“Our population includes the medically and emotionally fragile, and we needed to mobilize quickly and efficiently,” said Elizabeth Dello Russo Becker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of c. 766 Approved Private Schools (maaps). “We set up weekly virtual meetings with our member schools to understand their questions so we could be the point of contact for the state on behalf of our industry.”
“There was no way to ask, ‘What did we do last time?’ to inform our next steps,” said League School Executive Director, Larry Sauer. “maaps has provided more information than any other organization during this difficult time, and their role is an important part of the survival of our industry.”
A Suffolk Law School graduate, Elizabeth was senior legal counsel at Massport and Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs prior to joining maaps. Previously she worked for the City of Boston’s Mayor Menino on negotiating special projects. With a focus on special education in law school and in her early career, and as a former student of a maaps school, she is deeply committed to maaps, which advances the needs of over 7,000 students and their day and residential programs.
“Despite working together for three months before I retired, there was no way to prepare for COVID-19,” said Jim Major, former long-time maaps Executive Director. “Elizabeth’s talent for understanding how to organize to support a diverse group of schools to respond to complex challenges has been very beneficial to special education schools and their students.”
The state welcomed having a single point of contact for the special education industry, which has helped to streamline communications as regulations evolve. One of the first initiatives the maaps Board took was to fund member school legal fees during March so they could work with the state to create emergency rules. This gave the industry a strong regulatory foundation.
Since that time, maaps has held frequent virtual meetings on a variety of subjects to help schools navigate the crisis: legal information; re-entry guidance; specific autism spectrum disorder needs (such as personal protective equipment, serving deaf students, and mask wearing); remote learning; financial best practices; residential program administration; and nurse advice. They also actively communicate with their stakeholders through emails, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
“We want to keep the industry alive and thriving, and we’re doing all we can to support that,” said Elizabeth. “Our students don’t always have their own voice and can be overlooked. We advocate for them.”