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Special Education Is Left Behind by Distance Learning

Some Students Left Behind

School Districts Are Failing to Provide Sufficient Special Education Courses Through Distance Learning

Schools were forced to think on their feet when it became evident that coronavirus was going to be a lasting danger. Many applaud the resourcefulness of institutions embracing online learning to provide instruction to students, but others are realizing that this distance learning is not working for all children. While students are forced to stay home for their safety, many school districts are failing to provide adequate substitutions for the in-class experience provided to students with learning differences. These students are facing a long-lasting and detrimental impact on their education.

The matter is something our own Tom Blessing has dealt with closely. Tom has been representing one of these students forgotten by the system. The story was originally covered by Jordan Smith of Purdue’s news source, The Exponent.

For the sake of the family and their confidentiality, we will not disclose their names or the name of their academic institution. We will say, however, that the student is a sixth-grade boy with autism at a Tippecanoe School Corporation institution.

Before the coronavirus shifted all schools to adapted methods of teaching and learning, the student in question was already at a disadvantage. He was suspended twice and moved to home schooling after his aid was refused entry to the building. The reason given to the aid was that they needed to pass a background check first—something the aid had never heard before in their twenty-year career.

The parents came to a settlement in January after his two suspensions. The child was to receive homeschooling consisting of six hours of education in addition to two hours of counseling and social skill instruction per week. The child received a total of less than five hours of instruction per week.

The transition was problematic from the start, and only continued to worsen. Come mid-March, students received an elongated spring break amid coronavirus’s first outbreaks. The break lasted until the end of the month and meant no teaching for the students in any of the classes.

After in-person learning was suspended, the sixth grader only received a 36-minute call from a teacher—with no special education license—for the entirety of April.

All Indiana students with special needs have and rely on Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs. This document is meant to outline learning objectives and any necessary accommodations or services for the student. The child’s school failed to adequately implement his.

This continued denial of deserved education will have lasting impacts on students who need it most. Social distance learning for students enrolled in special education is not working as it exists now. It is not as simple as replicating a satisfactory lesson plan of standard classes. Students with disabilities typically benefit from a large staff of aids in school, including:

  • Teachers of service
  • Special education teachers
  • Counselors
  • Therapists
  • School psychologists

The likelihood of implementing a virtual program with these resources is unfortunately slim.

Tom continued to voice his concerns about the inadequacies of distance learning for students in special education to the Purdue Exponent. Students are promised free public education under federal law that is meant to achieve a certain standard. For these children at home without any classroom aides to assist them and parents unaware of how to emulate their child’s teacher and help create a surrogate classroom setting, their education is facing potentially long-lived damage.

These programs are designed to help students by giving them the time to obtain and retain the information they’re being taught. They typically involve a summer program of sorts to aid in the retention and refrain from losing any skills over the lost break. With a lackluster spring excuse of learning and cancelled summer programs, students in special education are already behind. As schools fail to make improvements to the system, the children are doomed further. They cannot catch up or move forward with their peers.

The student’s counselor fought for the availability of summer programs for the students. The proposal was denied, and her contract was terminated the next day.

The point of special education programs is to prepare the students for independent living. A life at home receiving instructions from unqualified parents, all the while losing skills that were learned in previous years as their time out of school drags on, is having an adverse effect and making them more dependent. These students don’t deserve to be an oversight. Actions must be taken to guarantee them the education they have a right to and the goal of an independent adulthood.

If you have a child who is being left behind by the failed distanced special education learning plan, contact Tom Blessing or one of our other attorneys to fight for the teaching and resources your child is owed.