Back in March when distance learning started here, I wrote a post called Special Ed During School Closures: It’s Not About the Academics. If you have time, the post is well worth reading, but to sum it up, “Here in the US, it is school districts that deliver many essential therapies to kids past the age of three. Once kids age out of early intervention (Birth to Three) but still need services they are moved to the local school district and given an IEP.“
The School System Has Utterly Failed My Special Needs Kids
Now, sadly, seven months later, I can say the school system has utterly and completely failed my children with special needs. I reminded myself daily during the lockdown that these were unplanned times for everyone. I did my best to extend grace to the school system. My daughter did not engage at all online. For her, school stopped in March 2020. Now, my typical kids could go without school for six months with very few lingering issues. They would fill their time reading, exploring, learning. Not so for my children with special needs.
When distance learning began, we requested hard copies of schoolwork for my daughter. Instead of textbooks, we were repeatedly sent unreadable copies of textbooks.
As you can see, someone took the time to photocopy these, vertically…the copies are dark, and due to distortion near the center binding, even Chuck and I could not read these. This is for a child who has reading in her IEP. And this didn’t just happen once, it happened week after week. When I requested textbooks I was told I couldn’t have one because “it might not be returned”. Nevermind that the school handed out Chromebooks to every single student who requested one.
Distance Learning: Checking In, Checking Boxes
The school checked in once or twice to, “see how it was going”. I told the truth. It was horrible. My child could not engage online, the copies of the work we were sent were unreadable, our internet was cutting out, she was doing nothing. The response was, “oh, I’m sorry to hear that”. Nothing was done to try to help her. It was completely obvious the call was made to check off a box…they had contacted us. Next.
June 25th I received my daughter’s IEP update which read, “From parent reports, [child’s name] completed most of her assignments”. I assume the “from parent reports” was because she didn’t turn in a single assignment online. I immediately sent an email to the school requesting that IEP be corrected.
1. It wasn’t true and;
2. If this wasn’t over by the fall, I wanted the truth reflected in her record that this was not working.
Advocating is Part of My Job
I filled out every survey that came our way from the district. I participated in every zoom meeting for parents. This fall, I emailed the principal, director or Special Services, IEP case manager, and district superintendent. I spoke to each one of them (with exception of the director of special services) on the phone. I expressed my concerns and the challenges with distance learning. Our district was offering no “hard copies” of work this year, distance learning only. I spoke to the superintendent and she made an exception for my daughter. I was thrilled!
Two weeks into the school year, I still had not recieved a single book, paper, or item of schoolwork for my child. When I received her schedule her four classes were Spanish, Marketing, Reading/Writing, and Environmental Biology. You might notice a lack of math…
How Many Classes Can Kids Balance?
Last year the high school switched to eight classes instead of six (that’s a big load for anyone)! In the spring they found that juggling eight online classes was too much for kids, so they decided the first nine weeks of school would be periods 1-4, the second nine weeks periods 5-6. This means, no math at all for the first nine weeks of school, for my child with math in her IEP.
In addition, Spanish (online or at home with a book) is not going to work for a child with reading (in English) in her IEP. I managed to get that swapped out for ceramics.
How Distance Learning Works with an IEP
When speaking to the principal earlier this week, I was told
- No, she would receive no math or math support for the first nine weeks of school.
- Ceramics would consist of watching videos online and doing assignments.
- Her IEP support for Reading/Writing would be done via zoom.
- I was given no information about how Environmental Biology would work, but honestly, this was the least of my concerns.
- When I asked specifically about how her IEP minutes were going to be met, I was told those could be accessed during “office hours” online, where she could talk to a teacher via zoom and ask for help.
Sadly, none of this, none of it, will work for my child with special needs. There is a reason why, even with 20 years experience, I have chosen to send my children with special needs to school...they need the support they should receive through their IEP’s. I should add, my children also have “social skills” on their IEP’s which, of course, can’t be done via distance learning.
I am so, so disappointed this is how it is playing out. I know my children are not the only ones losing out and I also know I am in a position of privilege having the time and resources to advocate for my children. Many parents don’t have that. And still, it is getting me (and them) nowhere.
To add insult to injury, yesterday’s communication from the district celebrated having “students on campus for some of our CTE (career and technical education) classes that require learning in our labs and shops.” Yes, I understand metalwork and woodshop can’t exactly be done online but neither can adequate special education. To me, this stings of my children not being as important as typical students.
Yes, Your Kids Can Attend School…if You Pay the YMCA
In addition, our district is now partnering with the YMCA to offer childcare (at the school) for families who need it…for $15 a day. To quote from their flyer, “Students will be supported to engage in the district’s distance learning model while in YMCA care”.
So, kids will sit in the school gym, wearing masks, doing distance learning on a laptop via zoom, while their teacher literally teaches (via zoom) down the hall. The theory is, there will be fewer kids, so they can practice better social distancing. But here’s how it works.
- Our taxes pay for the school building and teachers to offer education to all students in the district.
- It is too risky for our kids to attend school in person, hence the distance learning model.
- The YMCA can come into the school (that is paid for by our tax dollars) and charge parents for watching their kids…in their own school.
- It is too risky for my special ed kids to go back to school…so instead, they will not receive adequate support nor have their IEP’s followed.
To be clear, I am not saying we should just send kids back to school. I am pointing out the ridiculousness of charging parents to have kids sit in their school gym and do distance learning while not allowing kids (with special needs) to access their education.
An Unsatisfying End
After talking to the principal earlier this week, I chose to un-enroll my daughter. Not because I want to and not because I think I have the skills to teach her what she needs but because the school simply is not following her IEP and telling me they can’t under present circumstances. Although clearly, some classes are meeting and some kids are at the school.
Sadly, not mine.