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Remote Learning and Special Education: It's not optimal.

As of last week, schools across the country began Remote Learning. There have been confusing updates from the state and federal governments regarding how this should be implemented. This has been a difficult and overwhelming process for teachers and parents alike. I am a former special education teacher and my heart goes out to my colleagues still teaching. I applaud them for all the work they have done and continue to do on a daily basis. While I believe that our school systems here in my area have done a tremendous job of handling this crisis, there is still something missing. Government officials often think of our children with special needs as an afterthought we thinking about education. While remote learning is not optimal for most students it is just one more unintentional and unfortunate obstacle in how our children with special needs learn.

Parents have been thrust into the world of education as teachers with the vast majority of them without the necessary training. They are now trying to figure out how to work (essential), provide daycare, manage behaviors, and teach their children. Some are figuring out how to work from home along with learning new technology for their students. They are worried about their own jobs, paying the bills, explaining to their children why they can’t be with their friends or outside family members, and how to keep the children busy throughout the day. Many are worried about feeding their children or how to receive food from the school district to feed their children. Anxieties are high everywhere and in every home. Homes that were mostly free of anxiety and stress are feeling this burden.

Now, add to the equation having a child(ren) with special needs. Those families already face daily challenges that other families do not. Children with special needs often receive therapies such as speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy to name only a few interventions common to these families. These therapies are most often provided one on one, in person. Now we are asking parents to be highly trained and specialized in teaching and therapy as well.

Parents of children with special needs have all the same worries as parents without children with special needs. However, they also have added concerns that their child(ren) will suffer regression of the skills they've learned academically, behaviorally, socially, and therapeutically. Many families have a heightened worry of sickness and providing financially for basic life necessities. This group of parents is very concerned that the rights granted to them in IDEA will be stripped away. Parents of children with special needs are used to adjusting and adapting their lives. They are used to plans not going as prepared. They are usually able to handle much more than the average family when facing everyday challenges. However, the challenge of remote learning is getting the better of them.

Remote learning is difficult for all families. Hands down the majority of families are not prepared to be teachers. Even parents who are trained to be teachers weren’t trained to do this. The families in our communities with special needs are struggling even more. Their children not only needed a general education teacher but also one who is trained in specializing and individualizing education. These families are now left with two or possibly more huge pieces of their child’s education missing. While all children are missing direct learning from their teachers, these children are missing their specially designed instruction as well.

I understand the necessity of remote learning at this time and in a way I am thankful this has happened. I believe it has shown many areas of weakness in our education system as an entity with regards to educating our special needs population. It has given us an opportunity to better our systems for all students in the future. If we learn something in this crisis as it relates to education, I hope it's that we need to consider how to address the mass crisis as a part of the IEP process. Legislation and guidelines will be needed, but when it matters to our most vulnerable children, it is worth the time and effort. I believe we will be able to make the world better for all, one IEP at a time. I also believe we can emerge from this crisis having learned how better to understand and address the needs of all students, families, and teachers while working collectively together.

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