Dennehy: Remote learning isn’t working for special education students

As the majority of students make the transition to remote learning, the children who arguably need the most help are being left behind
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MIchael Dennedy

We are over one month into remote learning, with about two months left in the school year. By many accounts, remote learning kicked off with a tremendously successful bang.

Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut should be credited with pulling together a statewide plan, implementing it, and working round the clock to smooth out the wrinkles along the way.

However, in local school districts, as the majority of students have made the transition to remote learning, the children who arguably need the most help are now being left behind. Special education students, those children who have an individualized education plan, or IEP, who have a full-time or part-time paraeducator, or who have physical, speech and occupational therapists, either no longer have these services at all or they are being delivered in a way that doesn’t produce much benefit.

It’s hard enough that our kids have lost the routine that they thrive and depend on, but now children with special education services are told to get onto a laptop by themselves, view teachers or therapists through a screen and hope that it works out or has some value to it.

Speaking as a father of a child who depends on these services, and one who talks with other parents across the state in the same situation, working in person with a paraeducator and conducting speech or physical therapy directly with a human is critical to learning successfully. In most cases, a service through a laptop screen just doesn’t work.

While the school districts should be commended for implementing remote learning at a rapid pace, they must focus on how students with special education services can learn with the same success as those without. These children are losing ground, and waiting any longer will be detrimental, causing regression that could have long lasting impacts.

We all want to get back to the way things were, but we cannot just pass the time and run out the clock until the end of the school year hoping that all of our children will just make it through. The outlook from many administrators appears to be we will pick things up in September and make up for any lost time. As appealing as that outlook may be, it is an unacceptable approach.

Of course, remote learning provides challenges, and for administrators this has been overwhelming. However, now is the opportunity for administrators to rise up and shine. It has been over a month since remote learning started, and it’s past time to figure out how each student can learn best, rather than try to force a square peg into a round hole and hope for the best.

All children are different, and all of our children deserve the best education possible. We are hopeful that school district administrators will rise to challenge of delivering special education services successfully during this crisis.

Michael Dennehy lives with his family in Bow.

Categories: Education, Opinion

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