If teaching students with special needs does not already require an enormous amount of patience and planning, meeting the needs of students with IEPs using distance learning is quite the Sisyphean task, especially as teachers try to provide accommodations and modifications online. This is extremely crucial to a student’s success and their ability to access the general ed core curriculum of their peers. As a special education teacher myself, I can attest to this and am even one of the lucky teachers to be at a technology based school that already uses Canvas, a program that provides students the ability to access their assignments, turn in their assignments, and have access to online textbooks. Additionally, my school is still holding IEP meetings through Zoom and getting parent signatures through Adobe. They have adapted very well in order to try to provide the services that each student needs.
However, even with this privilege, my students with mild disabilities are still struggling a lot with the distance learning platform. They are more distracted and I am less able to give them individualized goal work as well as keep data on each of their goals. These students benefit from constant check ins and reminders from the teacher who is normally in close proximity. Without this accommodation, many students with IEPs are lost during the online lesson. Additionally, they may not be receiving auxiliary services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy which brings us to the next concern of many teachers and administrators. As parents do have the right to sue a district if their child is not receiving the appropriate special education services, districts must make their best effort to support students with special needs from the ages of 3 to 21 according to IDEA. We are also currently not allowed to conduct virtual assessments which we do every three years for a student’s triennial IEP. This allows us to determine whether students should still qualify for special education services. Internet and zoom technical difficulties is another concern as many students are missing out on content or interrupted in the middle of a lesson due to these issues. For students who are already easily distracted and have processing problems, these issues can be quite challenging. Additionally some students are too comfortable at home and may fall asleep during the lessons.
Another challenge for students with special needs is social skills. With the lack of student interaction, Zoom can help but can’t replace in person collaboration and social time to eat and play with friends outside. Specifically, students with autism struggle with a change in their routine so the switch to online schooling has turned their world upside down. They are unable to follow their normal daily routines which can lead to depression and meltdowns. Not only are students with special needs suffering tremendously but so are parents. They have depended on teachers with credentials, Master’s Degrees, resources, and experience to help guide their children and are having to be homeschool teachers themselves, many of whom work full time.
Often students with special needs are not working at grade level so loosing time in school is precious time that can’t be wasted. Tutoring provided by special education teachers and assistants are a valuable way to supplement homeschool instruction during this difficult time as well as in the summer. Beach Cities Tutoring can help with this and has specialists that normally teach in the South Bay. As a special education teacher, I know that I will not give up on my students and providing the best education that I can, but I am also realistic and acknowledge the limitations of technology.