Access Not Denied
The Explosion of Special Education

Removing Virtual Learning Negatively Affects Special Education Students

Zoom callNote: I saw this story on Apple News yesterday. Our children get short shrift at every turn, and the pandemic has been especially demeaning and destructive for them. There aren't enough "compensatory services" in the world to make up for the loss to students and their families.

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Special education ‘This is not inclusive.’ Some students with disabilities are going without as districts scale back virtual programs

By Kalyn Belsha

‘This is not inclusive.’ Some students with disabilities are going without as districts scale back virtual programs
As the new school year approached, Susan Graham wanted to know: Would her California school district have a remote learning option for her fifth grader?

State lawmakers put strict limits on virtual learning this year, so her son’s district wasn’t offering daily classes over Zoom anymore. Instead, the district had an “independent study” program. Graham hoped it could work as a stopgap until her 10-year-old, who has Down syndrome and a respiratory condition, could be vaccinated against COVID.

At a virtual town hall about the remote program, though, she was told it was a “general education” program only. If her son enrolled, he would lose access to modified lessons, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.

“I was pretty stunned,” Graham said. “This is not inclusive.”

School districts don’t have to offer virtual learning this year, and most have scaled back their virtual offerings to encourage students to return to in-person school. But where virtual school is available, some students with disabilities are finding it’s closed to them — or they are being asked to give up certain kinds of support to enroll.

That’s left families, advocates, lawyers, and school districts disagreeing on a key question: With schools open nationwide, what exactly must districts provide online?

Federal officials have stressed the importance of in-person learning for students with disabilities, many of whom have struggled to learn online while trading hands-on services for virtual stand-ins. “The best thing we could do for students with disabilities is the same thing we can do for all students — get them back in the classroom,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said at a Senate hearing last month.

In a lengthy guidance document, the federal education department recently told districts that if they open a virtual program to all students, the district “must ensure that a child with a disability whose needs can be met through virtual learning” receives all of the services they’re legally entitled to. That leaves districts with some discretion to decide who those students are.

But across the country, lawyers say districts are inappropriately excluding students and saying their needs cannot be met online, including many students who received special education services virtually last year.  Read the rest here.

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