7.1 million students, ages 3-21, receive special education services in the United States. That’s roughly 14% of all public schools. By law, these students must be provided a “free and appropriate public school education” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Then COVID hit with such an explosive force, the very foundation of our public education was shattered, and those 7.1 million students are now slipping through the cracks.
I’m not looking to place blame on our school districts. I’ve been a public school educator for fifteen years, and my husband is a public school administrator. I’m not looking to engage in a heated political debate over the merits of wearing a mask and social distancing. I’m done reading hateful mud-slinging masked as “honest debate” on my social media accounts.
I’m done talking about it. It’s time to start doing something about it.
We need to start finding solutions to this unanswered question:
How are we going to ensure all students continue receiving necessary school resources?
Notice I said “we.” Not schools, not parents, not our government. We. Because if we can’t come together to figure this out, we’re never going to find real solutions.
Attempts are being made. In Upper Arlington, Ohio, a school district has proposed allowing only students with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) to attend face-to-face while the rest of the district goes virtual. Unfortunately, this has led to a lawsuit being filed against the district because the school has determined only 50 students with IEPS can begin face-to-face, requiring many with IEPS to learn remotely.
In Albemarle County, Virginia, the option to return to classrooms is being presented to students in 4th-12th grade with IEPS, English Language-Learners, and those with no internet service at home while the rest will learn remotely.
The trend I’m seeing is this underlying belief that students who require special education services need to be in the classroom. I can’t say I disagree. My own son, who has high-functioning autism, floundered online last spring. However, there are a lot of districts where this simply isn’t an option. We also have to consider the very real concern for children and family members who have compromised immune systems. Even if the district does offer face-to-face, a family may not be able to safely participate.
So I ask the question again: How are we going to ensure all students continue receiving necessary school resources?
How are we getting creative for our remote learners? Please, don’t send me another lengthy list of resources to read and decipher on my own. Please, don’t tell me to Zoom. All Zoom did was cause my son to have regressive behaviors, banging his head on the table, pulling his hair, and crying in frustration. No thank you. What else can we do?
Let’s go back to the drawing board and work as a collaborative team.
I don’t just want to sign a Contingency Learning Plan that amounts to me agreeing my school district can’t meet my child’s needs as outlined in his IEP. I want to come up with a plan that is robust, a plan that will ensure he can learn alongside his peers, even if that means he’s at home doing it. We are smart people. We can do this if we stop admiring the problem and start acting on it.
I recognize there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education, especially when it comes to special education. Real solutions will only be created when school districts work closely with their parents to devise a plan. It’s going to require sharing ideas on a larger, statewide and national level, where educators and parents are given the space to share ideas and devise actual plans in a non-judgemental manner. Essentially, it requires us to go back to basics. We know our special education system can succeed if we work together collaboratively, keeping our emotions at bay. Call me naive, but I do believe most of us want what’s best for our children. If we can keep coming back to that core belief, we can persevere during this pandemic.
The 2020-21 school year is already underway for many districts. What are we waiting for? My fear is that we’re waiting because we simply don’t know what to do. We’ve found ourselves in this damaging state of decision paralysis. That has to stop now.
I’m so sick of the divisive nature of our nation. Let’s put our collective heads together and start repairing the educational foundation COVID has mercilessly broken.
We can all do better for our children.
Miranda is a freelance writer, editor, and educator who writes about raising a child with autism on her blog, Mommy Catharsis. Her work can also be found on Ann Arbor Family Press, Current, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, and The Mighty. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or her business site, Keskes Ink.