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How to Adapt Special Education to the Remote-Learning Reality

When the pandemic forced schools to transition to remote learning in the spring, some families struggled more than others. Families of students in special education programs were suddenly expected to adapt to an online learning environment that was often inaccessible to children with a variety of physical, emotional or developmental needs.

As another period of distance learning dawns, parents, educators and service providers are offering recommendations and advice about special education.

Although it may seem obvious, parents should know that schools must still provide their students with special education. Denise Stile Marshall, chief executive of the national Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, which protects the civil rights of students with disabilities, said she received an outpouring of calls in March from parents — especially from California — struggling to get their school districts to accommodate every student’s needs.

Some school districts, Marshall said, completely suspended special education courses until the closures ended. Marshall said that is illegal under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the law that makes about 7 million students in the United States eligible for special education. Every child, regardless of need, is entitled to a “free, appropriate public education.”

If a school district is not meeting its requirements, Marshall said, caregivers should write their concerns down to create a record. Any data that families can collect on any student — including video of the child, school work or other documentation — can be helpful for tracking the student’s progress or regression. Then, she said, get into contact with the school district and the student’s individualized education program coordinator.

Adjust expectations

Don’t be afraid to change your child’s learning goals for the year.

That may mean reevaluating a student’s individualized education program, or IEP. Set up a meeting with the child’s IEP team to assess the goals for the year.

The IEP may require more intense services to counter an achievement gap caused by last year’s sudden shift to virtual learning. If some in-person services such as physical or occupational therapy are not available now, COPAA’s Marshall recommends setting an agreement for when the service can resume.

More parental involvement might be needed

For a child struggling with a speech issue, for example, speech-language pathologist Jimmy Nguyen is frank: Therapy from home is going to be hard and require more parental involvement. Adults at home may need to monitor the student to make sure they are logged on and paying attention.

Still, he said, there’s hope: “For parents, it’s just tweaking their routine a little to (achieve) those goals and making them a part of their skill set.”

For example, he often advises families that a simple trip to the grocery store can turn into a lesson. Analyzing a box of cereal can help with language skills, while adding up calories on a candy bar can teach simple math. Playing board games as a family is another way to engage a child and improve a host of skills — social, analytical, critical thinking and sometimes even math. Interactive lessons — which he recommended finding on websites Nearpod and N2Y — can also facilitate learning.

Keep a schedule — as best you can

Keeping a schedule doesn’t necessarily mean following a typical six- or eight-hour school day.

“Expecting kids to sit from 8 to 3 online all day is not realistic,” said Lasky, the special education professor. “It’s not realistic for people that don’t have disabilities, and it’s not realistic for kids with disabilities.”

Mix up the traditional schedule by adding in plenty of breaks for small rewards, like a snack, a few minutes of TV time or a romp outside.

Excerpted from “How To Adapt Special Education To The Remote-Learning Reality” in the Los Angeles Times. Read the full article for additional tips and recommendations.

Source: Los Angeles Times | How To Adapt Special Education To The Remote-Learning Reality, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-08-14/how-to-adapt-special-education-to-the-remote-learning-reality | © 2020 Los Angeles Times

Care Managers can arrange a free 30 minute Care Consultation so you can explore options with an expert. We invite you to call or email our Care Managers at 650.688.3625 or careteam@chconline.org to set up an initial Parent Consultation appointment.

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