ROADMAP FOR SCHOOLS A tool for planning your students' transition back to school during the pandemic

This year is likely a year of multiple transitions for students — from remote to hybrid, back to remote, and then to fully in-person, for example. Our students, particularly those with disabilities and diverse learning needs, may be challenged by these transitions. To them, this feels like unstructured, anxiety-creating, and/or unsafe learning conditions. So why not plan for the inevitable? As we make daily educational programming decisions, from school-wide planning to individual student goal setting, we can keep student transitions top-of-mind. Making their educational settings safe will impact how students access content and this will impact outcomes. If educators and families collaborate to streamline transitions for all students, particularly for those who struggle with these changes, our schools can mitigate some of the turbulence of what will otherwise be a very challenging year.

The Ability Challenge (ABC), a non-profit dedicated to redefining special education improvement, has developed this Roadmap for Schools to elevate this issue to the forefront of back-to-school planning.

Key Question: “What if we considered the need for transition support between settings (home learning vs. school learning) in our accommodations or goals?”
Scroll Down for More info About Each Part of the Roadmap


This roadmap seeks to provide a clear set of principles and ideas for consideration by schools in the planning process for school start regarding the provision of support to diverse learners through multiple transitions and unpredictable setting changes that are inevitable with the COVID-19 health crisis. There are multiple ways to use this guide. Here are a few examples:

1. Educators planning supporting individual or groups of students in the classroom: A group of teachers may choose to collaborate by reviewing a section of this interactive guide with an eye toward identifying 1-2 strategies that can be implemented at a time;

2. Administrators planning for school-wide programming or policies: A Director of Student Support can print and review the PDF version of the Roadmap prior to convening the Student Support Team to update a policy written for prior school years focusing on how the new policy might impact diverse learners; or

3. Individual student goal setting: An IEP team developing goals on a student’s distance learning plan may use the Roadmap Organizer to prepare for a meeting with the student’s parents.


During a May 2020 Town Hall convening sponsored by The Ability Challenge (ABC), education stakeholders came together to think radically about how we design our educational settings to best serve the needs of diverse learners. In that session, participants were asked to imagine what equitable education could look like if we solved some of the biggest equity challenges facing our communities, both directly resulting from the COVID-19 crisis and existing systemic inequities for which COVID-19 has revealed our stark reality. What emerged was a set of “What If” statements that kick started action and enabled participants to spend time processing their own role in designing high quality supports for diverse learners regardless of the format of instruction this fall. We then continued our conversation about #radicalrecovery with a smaller group, to dig into one of our “What If” statements to develop a resource for schools as they plan for remote and hybrid learning.

We selected the question “What if we considered the need for transition support between settings (home learning vs. school learning) in our accommodations or goals?” This is an issue very top of mind for educators, parents, and students and our conversation yielded ideas for working with students to minimize the potential detrimental impact of multiple transitions resulting from the current health crisis. This document represents that thinking.

Recognizing that the world is constantly changing, we hope this document will continue to evolve as educators begin implementing the ideas and sharing what they learn. We welcome feedback by email at info@theabilitychallenge.org or by posting on social media and tagging ABC or using the hashtag #radicalrecovery.

On that note, we want to thank our partners in this work, including everyone who attended our Town Hall, especially:

  • Sivan Tuchman, Center on Reinventing Public Education
  • Brooke Allen, Diverse Learners Cooperative
  • Lindsay Kruse, Independent Consultant
  • Sarah Nissim, Learning Specialist
  • Meredith Marlier, Shawnee Mission School District
  • Sarah Chan, Georgetown University

In it together, Sarah Sandelius, Founder, The Ability Challenge


Diverse Learners: Students with disabilities (with a 504 Plan, IEP, or no formal plan) or students with other learning needs.

Transition: The physical and mental shift between learning at home and learning at school which includes the planned and predictable schedule and the emergency as-needed shifts due to rolling closures and quick systems decisions.

Accommodation: Accommodations include adjustments to instruction or programming to provide a student with a disability access to the same content as other students. Here, the definition has expanded to include policies that promote the growth and potential of students with diverse learning needs (e.g., testing in a separate location or preferential seating, as well as equity-driven attendance policies or curriculum that highlights anti-ableist content).

Targeted Collaboration: ABC’s term for the daily interactions educators have with each other to identify, share, and meet student needs. Targeted collaboration draws from research to elevate the most high-impact strategies for working together to educate students.



As with most policy creation, accommodation development, or goal setting, schools should start by defining exactly what is the issue that needs to be addressed and why. Formulating this as a problem question provides an opportunity to get clear about the parameters in which you will be working. This can be refined as you go but is always helpful to set the stage for why you are engaging in this work.

Engaging in planning collectively builds targeted collaboration across school teams and advances consistent, coherent, and aligned planning for all students, especially those with diverse learning needs. Working together in this way, educators are empowered to: (1) bring their unique expertise to the table; (2) better tailor instruction to meet the individualized needs of diverse learners; and (3) reinforce behaviors that embrace high expectations, high standards, and a growth mindset for all. See the example below:

Main Street Elementary School has always struggled with getting students to focus on learning at the beginning of the week and immediately after vacations because many of the students have very little structure at home. As a result, when they come to school as part of a hybrid learning schedule, teachers meet as a grade level team and describe trends in student behavior as even more disruptive and loud.

ISSUE: How can the 4th grade teachers create video conference classroom norms to accommodate students through multiple planned and unplanned transitions?


Schools looking to plan explicitly for what will likely be a year of transitions for students are best served by working through the following five considerations, ideally in collaborative groups. This can be done in the context of schoolwide planning, grade level planning, creating a plan of action for one particular student. These five main considerations (colored purple on the chart above) are important themes that impact how students access educational services and supports. School teams can use this guidance and complete the Roadmap Organizer to begin planning for a particular transition-focused accommodation or goal.

Transition Type: In crafting transition-focused accommodations and goals, a primary consideration is to differentiate between planned and unplanned transitions (though to some extent, due to the uncertainties facing us, we may be able to plan upfront for what would otherwise be unplanned transitions in different times). While the other considerations below generally apply with either transition type, planned vs. unplanned transitions have different implications for how students with disabilities may respond.

Audience: Thinking about the different audiences for your planning will help craft useful guidance - clearly defining both the direct audience, as well as those who might be indirectly impacted, helps teams plan for implementation.

Supports and Resources: As learning transitions between in-person and remote settings, the resources available to students and families will be a critical component to creating a feeling of consistency and safety. Resource categories to consider include:

  • Setting
  • Supplies
  • Time
  • Technology
  • Human supports

Student Need: Consider the academic, behavioral, and other needs of the child(ren) impacted by the changes and how to tailor responses to directly meet those (and other unanticipated needs). Thinking through the behavioral and social-emotional needs of students, such as whether the student struggles with change and which elements in particular are most unsafe (e.g., the unpredictable nature, lack of routine) can help you craft goals that support both individual students with disabilities, as well as all students more generally. Additionally, better understanding how a student's academic and functional skills overlap with needs related to transition (e.g., building executive functioning skills, etc.) are relevant and important considerations.

Context and Goals: The final consideration is what you are trying to accomplish - Is there a particular context or goal(s) that guide(s) this work? Examining these contextual factors may help:

  • Timing
  • Documentation
  • Culture
  • Sustainability
  • Student-Centered Focus


After working through the considerations above, it's time to continue working together by creating an accommodation, goal or plan. Certain themes or trends should stand out the considerations, paving the way forward for an appropriate accommodation or goal. Additionally, as part of implementation, think through, in advance, who the stakeholders are and how to engage them throughout the planning process (developing and implementing). The Roadmap Organizer is a template for these discussions. Below are some ideas for accommodations and goals based on different issue areas:

  • Social-emotional Support and Wellness
  • Teaching Academic and Functional Skills
  • Family Involvement
  • Professional Development & Operations


These are trying times for all of us with much uncertainty across the decisions we make every day. This is especially true for our students, especially the students who struggle with transitions and change. It is our role as educators to attune our practice to these needs and keep these considerations front of mind as we formulate policies, practices, and programming.

This is a living document and as such, as you implement these and other accommodations and attempt to turn our “What If” question into a reality, use the #radicalrecovery to tell us what works? What was most challenging? How can we continue to keep diverse learners at the center of our work? We are in this together.


Created with images by Markus Spiske - "Boy with play clock for adjust" • Austin Pacheco - "Schools Out" • Eye for Ebony - "untitled image" • Annie Spratt - "Young teen doing schoolwork at home after UK schools close due to the Coronavirus." • Annie Spratt - "Young teen doing schoolwork at home after UK schools close due to the Coronavirus."