Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) face an increased risk of mental health issues and behavior-related disciplinary action, impacting their academic success. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these risks have been significantly exacerbated due to physical and social isolation. Educators working to support students with EBD must adapt their methods of instruction and communication in order to provide consistent and effective services. Thus, educational policies and guidelines must be re-evaluated to reflect the new challenges brought forward by virtual learning environments. — Taryn McBrayne
Pandemic Effects on Students with EBD
In the United States, “5% of all students with disabilities receiving special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) fall under the disability category of emotional disturbance.”1 Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), “are significantly more likely to be suspended, expelled, and arrested than their peers without IEPs and with IEPs for other disabilities.”2 As a result, students exhibiting EBD and who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) often have access to intensive behavior interventions and support plans that are managed by special education teachers. However, following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, many schools closed, “potentially exacerbating the risk factors experienced by students with EBD.”
Following the closure of schools, districts needed to determine new policies regarding how students with an IEP would receive the support and services that they are legally entitled to. While technology aided in the provision of these services, those with limited access to technology (i.e., lower bandwidth, lack of access to appropriate devices) may have had compromised access to services, resulting in a negative impact on learning.3,4
Hirsch et al. “surveyed special education teachers (SETs) and resource specialist program teachers (RSPs) who were serving students with EBD in spring 2020” in order to “gather information about the extent to which these educators delivered the various supports and interventions delineated in students’ IEPs during school site closures.” Survey respondents represented 35 states, the majority of whom reported working in public schools.
The results of the survey can be summarized as follows:
- “Virtual meetings using platforms like Zoom were the most frequently (37.9%) used by all educators,” followed by telephone conferences and virtual classroom platforms such as Google Classroom and Seesaw. The chosen platforms varied based on district and individual school policy.
- It was unclear what activities were conducted via these communication channels and to what extent students were able to receive academic instruction through these platforms.
- “Over half of respondents who were delivering optional or mandatory remote instruction indicated that they checked in with all of their students with EBD regarding their social, emotional, and behavioral well-being during school site closures.”
- Additional commonly reported strategies included “prevention strategies, reinforcement, and structured social skills activities.”
- Implementation of certain intervention strategies may have been contingent on the ease of virtual delivery.
- “Anecdotal parent reports via email or phone call” were reported as the most common form of assessment data to measure student progress. These assessments were largely collected by SETs in comparison to RSPs.
The authors of the article acknowledge that because the survey was conducted during the midst of the pandemic, their study is not without limitations. Some of the limitations mentioned in the article include: lack of a fully representative sample, reduced list of intervention strategies provided in the survey questions, and a reliance on respondent self-reporting.
Despite these limitations, Hirsch et al. propose “numerous practical, policy, and research implications and directions for future research.” The authors call on policy-makers and educational leaders to develop specific “guidelines for mandating and supporting continuity of instructional services particularly for students with disabilities during school site closures.” They also suggest that gaps in access to technology need to be addressed to prevent an increasing “homework gap” for those learners who do not have the capability to complete tasks as a direct result of poor internet access. Furthermore, while the results of the study suggest that student well-being check-ins were prioritized, some respondents admitted to not checking in with their students at all, prompting a re-evaluation of communication methods during virtual learning.
Hirsch, S. E., Bruhn, A. L., McDaniel, S., & Mathews, H. M. (2022). A Survey of Educators Serving Students With Emotional and Behavioral Disorders During the Covid-19 Pandemic. Behavioral Disorders, 47(2), 95–107. https://doi.org/10.1177/01987429211016780
Summary by: Taryn McBrayne — Taryn believes in the power of student voice and, through the MARIO Framework, strives to create more opportunities for both educators and students to regularly make use of this power.
- National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). Children and youth with disabilities. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp
- Lipscomb, S., Haimson, J., Liu, A. Y., Burghardt, J., Johnson, D. R., & Thurlow, M. L. (2017). Preparing for life after high school: The characteristics and experiences of youth in special education. Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012: Vol. 1. Comparisons with other youth (NCEE 2017-4016). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.
- Kormos, E. (2018). The unseen digital divide: Urban, suburban, and rural teacher use and perceptions of web-based classroom technologies. Computers in the Schools, 35(1), 19–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/07380569.2018.1429168
- Williamson, B., Eynon, R., & Potter, J. (2020). Pandemic politics, pedagogies and practices: Digital technologies and distance education during the coronavirus emergency. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(2), 107–114. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2020.1761641
The change from onsite learning to online can cause students to lose motivation and efficiency in their learning. Having self-regulation skills and the use of preferred low or high-impact strategies can also affect student learning. It is crucial to understand these factors and support students by helping them with self-regulation skills and deciding on study strategies that work best for them. —Nika Espinosa
This study primarily focuses on the shelter-in-place adaptations of students in a doctor of chiropractic program. Forty-nine percent of the 105 students enrolled participated in the data collection. The researchers focused on primary study strategies, technology use, motivation and efficacy, study space and time, metacognitive planning, monitoring, and evaluating. Part of the study required the participants to give sufficient evidence.
Primary Study Strategy
When it comes to study strategies, the most frequently chosen study strategy by the students was repeated reading (low-impact) and completing practice problems (high-impact). A majority of the respondents (82%) did say that they didn’t use the same strategies during shelter-in-place that they used when they were onsite learning. Low-impact strategies such as highlighting and memorizing were frequently chosen by the respondents, whereas high-impact strategies were not as preferred. The survey also showed that the chosen primary strategies that participants used were low-impact. “These data imply that although a student selects a high- or low-impact study strategy from a list, it may not reflect the true study approach but rather indicate the 1st step in the approach.“
A majority of the students (86%) reported that there wasn’t much difference in their use of technology when the switch to shelter-in learning was made. Twelve out of the fifty-two students did say their adaptations to technology were more significant.
“Sixty-one percent (31/51) of respondents indicated a range in level of challenge and adaptability in finding a new study space.” Part of the challenges included not having a separate work-home space, noise, and distractions, and a lack of social interaction to support learning. “Eight respondents who selected low-impact study strategies and 4 respondents who selected high-impact study strategies as their primary strategy described positive adaptations.”
“Ninety-four percent (48/52) of respondents reported that they did not use the same amount of time studying during shelter-in-place orders as in prior academic terms in the program.” The biggest influencers were motivation and efficiency. Students’ motivation had gone down due to reasons such as pandemic stressors, lack of social interaction, and the structural shift in teaching and learning. Some reported that the work-life balance had become difficult, and a few students mentioned only finding accountability in deadlines and that their motivation was only to pass. Some students however became more efficient in their studies when they found ways to manage their own time.
Planning as a Metacognitive Strategy
Eighteen of the participants said that the most common plan they used during shelter-in learning was to create task lists and a study space to structure their learning. All of the participants that provided evidence also said that in order to set new goals, they needed to use high-impact strategies, regardless of if their primary strategy was low or high impact. “Forty-five percent (14/31) of respondents who selected a low-impact study strategy as their primary strategy described a positive or solutions-oriented plan moving forward, while 71% (15/21) of respondents who selected a high-impact study strategy as their primary strategy described a positive or solutions-oriented plan moving forward.” Those who did not provide sufficient evidence described the challenges of remote learning.
Monitoring as a Metacognitive Strategy
A majority of the participants provided evidence for monitoring their learning. Some of them however mentioned decreased confidence in studying due to either pandemic stressors or the lack of hands-on experience. A student was quoted that they relied very much on the school structure for learning. Uncertainty about the impact of their study habits was mentioned by six of the participants.
Evaluating as a Metacognitive Strategy
Seventy-seven percent of the participants expressed that high-impact strategies were more effective, but the rest described resorting to low-impact strategies due to pandemic stressors.
Williams, C. A., Nordeen, J., Browne, C., & Marshall, B. (2022). Exploring student perceptions of their learning adaptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Chiropractic Education. https://doi.org/10.7899/jce-21-11
Summary by: Nika Espinosa – Nika believes that personalized learning is at the heart of special education and strives to collaborate with educators in providing a holistic, personalized approach to supporting all learners through the MARIO Framework.
Special educators were already experiencing high rates of stress and burnout before the pandemic. This study emphasizes the additional stress on special educators during the pandemic. Educators are experiencing more stress, depression, anxiety, and mental exhaustion regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or school funding. —Tanya Farrol
Mental Health Impacts
This study focuses on the mental health impact on special education teachers (SETs) during the pandemic in the US. Before the pandemic, there were national shortages of special educators as many were leaving the profession due to stress and burnout. With the onset of the pandemic, there have been no studies to focus on the mental health impact on special educators. The authors of this study aimed to “(1) provide a nationwide view of levels of stress, burnout, and mental health of SETs, (2) examine differences in stress, burnout, and mental health by race, ethnicity, gender, and school demographics of SETs, and (3) examine the increased impact of the pandemic on stress, burnout, and mental health overall of SETs.”
A survey was created using Qualtrics and a flyer was created to advertise for special educators in public and charter schools throughout the US. The survey used the following measures:
- Maslach Burnout Inventory – Educators Survey:1 specifically, the emotional exhaustion scale was used.
- Patient Health Questionnaire:2 used in diagnosing and assessing depression based on the DSM-IV criteria for major depressive disorder.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale:3 a self-screening tool for diagnosing and assessing general anxiety.
- Teacher Specific Stress:4 used to assess 7 sources of stress in relation to teaching:
- classroom management;
- poor student academic performance;
- lack of student motivation;
- supporting students with special needs;
- time and workload pressures;
- problems with school administration; and
The data for the survey was collected during the fall of 2020, as the first part of a three-part long study. Four hundred and sixty-eight participants completed the survey with the majority being women (88.7%), and White (85.5%). Latinos made up 6.2% of the survey and 9% were Black. The average age of the respondents was 43.
The results show that special educators found that COVID had a significant impact on stress (91%), depression (58%), anxiety (76%), and emotional exhaustion (83%). Black special educators had less emotional exhaustion and teacher stress than non-Black special educators. There were no significant diagnostic differences based on race, ethnicity, gender, or school funding.
Based on the results, “a strikingly large percentage of SETs are experiencing clinically diagnosable symptoms of [general anxiety disorder] GAD and major depression, much larger than the normative U.S. prevalence rates.” The significant impact of the pandemic on special educators means more needs to be done to provide this group with mental health supports.
Cormier, C. J., McGrew, J., Ruble, L., & Fischer, M. (2021). Socially distanced teaching: The Mental Health Impact of the COVID‐19 pandemic on special education teachers. Journal of Community Psychology, 1-5. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcop.22736
The study is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences grant #R324A200232 awarded to second and third authors. Researcher Dr. John McGrew participated in the final version of this summary.
Summary by: Tanya Farrol – Tanya believes that the MARIO Framework is a personalized learning experience that develops skills and empowers learners to become an integral part of their learning journey.
- Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E., Leiter, M.P., Schaufeli, W.B., & Schwab, R.L. (1986). Maslach burnout inventory. Consulting Psychologists Press.
- Kroenke, K., & Spitzer, R. L. (2002). The PHQ-9: a new depression diagnostic and severity measure. Psychiatric annals, 32(9), 509-515.
- Spitzer, R.L., Kroenke, K., Williams, J.B., & Löwe, B. (2006) A brief measure for assessing generalized anxiety disorder: The GAD-7. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 1092-1097. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.166.10.1092
- Bernard, M.E. (2016). Teacher beliefs and stress. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 34(3), 209-224. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10942-016-0238-y