Struggles of Learning in Special Education Amidst COVID19

Did you ever think you would see an image like this in America, children in school wearing a mask? Well neither did I or my children. Yet here we are, struggling to learning in a new way sometimes day to day.

In the field of special education advocacy I often run into challenging situations and challenging people. While I am always prepared for what I might run into there are times and situations that require more creativity to move through. The current learning environment in #education during COVID19 is clearly one of those times. I find districts, schools and educators struggling to find ways to provide appropriate services for students facing challenges at school. Furthermore, I find parents and students struggling to receive the services, supports and accommodations guaranteed to them through the regulations governing their access.

I have found that school districts are not adequately prepared to meet the needs of their students, both with and without an #IEP. Let's look at my own high school student's situation. While the district was provided the entire summer to work out plans that addressed academic challenges under the current situations, when school was just days from starting they still did not have steps in place to have teachers use digital platforms to instruct live in a #RemoteLearning setting. In our tech savvy world it seemed a no brainer to me that the district would have prepared teachers to be ready for the use of live feed classroom instruction. By doing so they could have provided daily instruction for students. Create real time interaction for students to ask questions, engage in incidental learning, break-out into virtual small groups and just have access to the education they deserve. Yet when I asked about this possibility, I was told that the teachers need to be in the building so that they can learn the platforms and provide the instruction live. We are now nearly four weeks in and no word on when they will provide such a platform for student learning and I am not confident that it will happen anytime soon.

So when my own student is only meeting with each teacher once a week for 90 minutes, has questions that they can not get answered by a teacher and can't go in and talk with the teacher about, I have concerns. How will the student or the parent know what their child is learning and what they have not yet been able to grasp due to the current environment. Now let's look a that from the #specialeducation vantage point. When a student who received services through an #IEP, specifically designed to the student in both needs and setting, can no longer access the setting in which the services where aligned in order to best meet the student's needs.... it changes the design of the #IEP. Let's look at a couple of examples.

A child who uses a communication device works with the appropriate service provider to learn the device and use it appropriately in the academic setting. The device helps the student to ask questions and give answers as well as communicate their needs. When a child is learning the device remotely and not in the classroom setting where the above actions take place, then the instruction and target of the goal is different. If might be said that the student is no longer receiving the services as outlined in the #IEP.

How about a student who is working on behaviors that are aligned with #SocialEmotional learning. Think about a student who is working on social skills that help the student be successfully in the academic setting with their peers and teachers. Those skills ultimately help the student have access to the curriculum and instruction to the same extent as there peers. If you take away the opportunity to practice those skills in a meaningful way, which should be captured in the #IEP, then how are the student's needs being met? How is FAPE (free appropriate public education) being provided?

Don't get me wrong, I work with teachers and administration on a regular basis. I respect the hard work and effort they put in under normal circumstances. I get that things aren't ideal. However, I do think that the educational system can do a better job at defining what the services will look like or are looking like for students. Parent tell me everyday they are not sure what services their students are actually receiving and if they meet the requirements of the #IEP. The same goes for students who receive #accommodations in the academic setting. When #RemoteLearning is happening, how are the accommodations being met? For instance some school are not providing work through paper means. However, paper copies, copies of notes, etc. are what some students need. If a student needs extended time for a test, can they stay in the building longer or come in on another day to complete it? IF they are prone to distractions and need prompting to stay in task, hoe is that happening for a student who is at home learning on a computer in their bedroom with parent at work or working from home? I have so many questions and so do many of the parents/students I work with.

On top of all the concerns here, we generally must consider the learning style of students as a whole. While some students might enjoy #RemoteLearning, others learn best in a face-to-face environment where they can ask questions or learn from others. If full-time #InPersonLearning is not going to resume soon, we need to find ways to provide the direct instruction in a virtual live platform. More importantly, we needs to find a way to get back to in-person learning so that students can benefit from access to all the wonderful things it provides. Student who experience academic challenges met through their #IEP, #accommodations or #504Plan deserve the access provided in those plans. They deserve to be provided the #FAPE that they need and is their right.

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