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May 13, 2020 Meeting - Open Forum - Updates from FCASD, Rivers Therapies, & More

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

PALS Meeting Minutes

May 13, 2020 9:30 a.m.

Virtual Meeting using Zoom

Scroll down for the latest COVID-19 Resources & More.

Open Forum

Open Forum is an opportunity for participants to come together and discuss a variety of topics, offer resources, and ask questions related to special education. We discussed:

Tim Mahoney, Director of Special Education and Pupil Services for the Fox Chapel School District join us with a few updates:

  • Districts have not received any new guidance from the DOE.

  • At this time, the DOE indicates that while district's are in the Yellow Phase there is not to be any face-to-face contact with students.

  • FCASD sent out a survey looking for interest in a virtual Summer Learning Academy. The deadline for invited families to complete the surgery is Friday, May, 15th. At the time of our meeting 100 families had responded to the survey. The majority of those were favorable. FCASD is still in the development stage of offering SLA virtually. If it is offered it will most likely be in the form of face-to-face virtual instruction.

  • FCASD intends to send out a similar survey regarding Extended School Year Services (ESY).

Cherie River from River Pediatric Therapies shared that they are currently planning for a June 1st opening and will follow all govermental guidelines. She is currently working to develop enough clear, eight gauge vinyl reusable masks for therapists and clients to wear during in-person therapy sessions. These clear masks will allow all parties to see and respond to facial ques, an very important part of communication. You can find out more about their re-opening plan on their website.

Cherie also shared that River Pediatric Therapies continues to offer:

  • Virtual Reading Program for pre-schoolers held by school psychologist

  • FREE COVID-19 teletherapy support group

  • FREE Teletherapy Screenings for Speech, Occupational, Physical, and Behavioral Therapy Services.

Please see the flyers below for more information.

Participants expressed a desire for face-to-face virtual instruction between students and teachers. Students with attention deficits and/or anxiety are struggling with independent learning. Students have also had an easier time staying focused using Kahn Academy during math instruction. At the same time, some students are doing very well with independent studies with guidance from adults to help maintain focus. A combination of both face-to-face virtual instruction and independent study would be beneficial to all.

Participants discussed the possibility of a student's comfort level with virtual learning at home leading to anxiety. The anxiety of going back to school could take many forms, from not wanting to leave the home, to not wanting to go in to the school building. We will plan on focusing on this topic in a meeting later this summer prior to the start of the new school year.

In response to COVID-19, changes have been made to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). "The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The Department of Labor’s (Department) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. These provisions will apply from the effective date through December 31, 2020." For more informaiton please use the links above or visit the Department of Labor (DOL) webiste.

On May 20, 2020, the team at River Pediatric Therapies will join our Zoom meeting to provide insights and recommendations for keeping kids engaged at home this summer. Cherie River and her team of Occupational, Speech, Physical, and Behavioral Specialists will provide insight and resources. Questions welcome!

On May 27, 2020, Tim Mahoney, Director of Special Education and Pupil Services for the Fox Chapel School District will join our Zoom meeting to share updates on Extended School Year Services and Summer Camps, as well as the latest news from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.



From Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), Office of Intellectual Disability (OID)

AC DHS is preparing for what COVID-19 means for changes in service delivery today and into the future. As the situation continues to evolve, we want to get a feel for what people who are receiving services are experiencing—what is working well and what is not—to continue helping those who need it the most.

Please share the survey with family members and individuals that you support and assist them in completing it online if necessary.

First, ask clients if they will answer a few questions about the help they are receiving. Let them know their responses can be anonymous and we will use their input for planning. Then share the survey link ( with them if they’re able to complete it independently on a computer, tablet or mobile device. If they cannot, please respond on their behalf:

  1. Scroll down to Share Your Ideas

  2. Click “Answer” underneath each question

  3. Click sign in or sign up to comment. Signing in or up is not required to respond. You will be able to choose to Participate Anonymously on the next screen.

  4. Type in the text box and click “Post” when you are finished. Responses post immediately and are visible to anyone with a link to the website.

Do not forget to complete the survey yourself! You will be able to enter multiple responses after clicking “Post” after each response. We know you are busier now that ever.

Thank you for taking the time to help shape the future of our human services system. 

Brenda Bulkoski

Deputy Director, Office of Intellectual Disability (OID), Allegheny County Department of Human Services (AC DHS).



From Open Up Pittsburgh

The Open Up team has been working hard to bring plans for accessible virtual practice to life. Today, we published our first digital book with written content as well as a video collections for all ages.

We look forward to sharing more resources from Open Up as we continue to work in the hopes of bringing a bit of lightness to our spaces.


From Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), Office of Intellectual Disability (OID)

The Integrated Supports Star, a Charting the LifeCourse tool, is a way to brainstorm and share support strategies throughout the COVID-19 response.  

Find information about a May webinar, Supports Star examples, an Allegheny County COVID-19 star and an Allegheny County blank star for you to complete on the OID Key Communicator Announcement page here

Also from OID

Supplemental Security Income Recipients Will Receive Automatic COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments SSI Recipients with Dependent Children Should Still Go To to Provide Their Information

News release Wednesday, April 15th 2020

“The Social Security Administration announced today that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will receive automatic Economic Impact Payments directly from the Treasury Department. Treasury anticipates these automatic payments no later than early May.

SSI recipients with no qualifying children do not need to take any action in order to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment. The payments will be automatic.

SSI recipients who have qualifying children under age 17, however, should not wait for their automatic $1,200 individual payment. They should now go to the IRS’s webpage at and visit the Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info section to provide their information. By taking proactive steps to enter information on the IRS website about them and their qualifying children, they will also receive the $500 per dependent child payment in addition to their $1,200 individual payment. If SSI beneficiaries in this group do not provide their information to the IRS soon, they will have to wait until later to receive their $500 per qualifying child.”

For more information and a print version of the news release visit

Also from OID

Also from OID

Find this latest resource list, Resources especially helpful during the COVID-19 response on the OID webpage here

Please take some time to explore…I hope you find some things you can use… Your feedback would be appreciated!

There are lots of remote activities and ways to stay connected, supported and informed including:

  • Resources related to supporting individuals with intellectual disability and/or autism, their families and the people that support them

  • Resources related to supporting individuals with specific communication needs, their families and the people that support them

  • Basic Needs

  • Find support and connection

  • Ways to keep busy

  • Education  - students learning from home

As always, these lists are also available on our page:



Youth Sessions

Youth Supporting Youth Through Social Connection

Erin Weirerbach will share Transition Quality Empowerment Project (TQEP) events and activities planned by young people around the state such as “TQEP Tuesdays” with dance classes, online gaming, healthy tips and getting to know each other as well as “First Friday Flicks” with Netflix Watch Parties! Join this session to find out how you can get involved and stay connected.

Time: 6:15 PM - 6:35 PM

Youth Virtual Coffee Shop

Come hear Katie Smith and Claire Senita talk about how The PEAL Center is engaging youth and young adults weekly through 30-minute virtual meetings on hot topics to support successful transition. Each meeting begins with 15 minutes of presentation, followed by 15 minutes of discussion and sharing from participants.

Time: 6:45 PM - 7:05 PM

Family Sessions

Family/Caregiver Drop-in Sessions

FAMILIES TO THE MAX: Pennsylvania Statewide Family Networking is welcoming families to drop by virtually! Join Tammi Morton and Sharon Janosik to hear about the casual conversations families in Pennsylvania are having to share how they are coping with rapid changes in these challenging times. We will share information about support, networking, and humor.

Time: 6:45 PM - 7:05 PM

Simple Steps to Collecting Data and Supporting Learning at Home

Families are adjusting to facilitating learning at home while educators are adjusting to providing education virtually to students with disabilities. Families are concerned about their students regressing or losing skills. Join Parent Advisors Cindy Duch and Kathleen Haigh to learn strategies families can use to monitor their students’ progress while schools are closed. The presenters will also share some ideas about how specially designed instruction might be delivered at home.

Time: 7:15 PM - 7:35 PM

Parent to Parent: How Are You Coping With This?

Join Jacqui DiDomenico and Lorie Brew in this session where parents are encouraged to share strategies they are using to deal with the multiple demands of everyday life. Let’s put our heads together and support one another.

Time: 7:45 PM - 8:05 PM




The Statewide Support & Referral Helpline is staffed by skilled and compassionate staff that are available 24/7 to respond to those struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions due to the COVID-19 emergency. Staff at the Helpline refer callers to community-based resources that can further help to meet individual needs.

The toll-free, round-the-clock support line is officially operational.

The number to call is 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.

The Helpline was created by the Department of Human Services DHS and the Center for Community Resources (CCR). Helpline staff are trained to be accessible, culturally competent, and skilled at assisting individuals in the ID/A community as well as anyone else who might have a need – teens, adults, special populations and their supporters. Staff use the principles of trauma-informed care to listen, assess needs, triage calls, and provide appropriate referral to community resources to children, teens, adults and special populations.


Autism Connection of Pennsylvania's Spring Newsletter


Center for Community Resources


From Fox Chapel Area School District:

The Fox Chapel Area School District is continuing weekly food distributions for our families. These distributions, consisting of five breakfasts and five lunches, will continue as long as the school district is closed.

Weekly distribution will be held from noon-1:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the back entrance of Kerr Elementary School.

We will continue to keep you informed of upcoming food distribution sessions as they are scheduled.


Great Pittsubrgh Food Bank is holding a number of no contact food distributions in the area. There is a weeky distribution at the their headquarters at 1 N. Linden St.

Duquesne, PA 15110 every Monday. The time is generally 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.. Please tune into local news organizations for updates and other no contact food distribution sites. If you need additional information or further assistance, please visit their Get Help page.


During this time, we will continue to host virtual meetings using Zoom EVERY Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.. We will post the log-in information for these meetings on our Facebook and Twitter accounts. THIS IS A PASSWORD PROTECTED MEETING. THE PASSWORD IS INCLUDED IN OUR E-MAILED NEWSLETTER. YOU MAY SUBSCRIBE TO OUR E-MAIL LIST TO RECEIVE IT.

Reference Material

Need information regarding the rights to special education in Pennsylvania? The Education Law Center’s “A Guide for Parents and Advocates” is a great start.


Next Meeting: May 20, 2020 9:30 a.m. Virtual Meeting using Zoom. With the uncertainty surrounding ESY and Summer Camps, we welcome team members from River Pediatric Therapies to share insights and recommendations for keeping kids engaged through the summer season at home.

Upcoming Meeting: May 27, 2020 9:30 a.m. Virtual Meeting using Zoom. With Tim Mahoney, Director of Special Education and Pupil Services for the Fox Chapel Area School District. Tim will provide us with the latest updates on the COVID-19 school closure including Extended School Year (ESY) services and summer camps.

Upcoming Meeting: June 3, 2020 9:30 a.m. Virtual Meeting using Zoom. Currently scheduled as Open Forum, a time to share resources and experiences, and ask questions of the group. This will be the last of our special COVID-19 weekly meetings. We will then resume monthly meetings with the addition of four new meetings a year with a schedule that will take us to twelve meetings per year.

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