WATERTOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — Distance-learning amid the coronavirus outbreak is a big transition for all students, but experts say it is most difficult for those students with special needs who have individualized education plans and therapies at their schools.
“It’s been kind of a struggle lately. I’m not going to lie, but we’re doing the best we can, as everyone is,” says Christine Faressa of Watertown who is seeing behaviors in her 9-year-old son that she hasn’t noticed since he was little. The third-grader with autism is trying to adjust to distance-learning and the transition is difficult.
“My son Domenic is having a very hard time because home is play, not work,” explains Faressa.
There’s little access to the services usually at school – like speech therapy or occupational therapy. Faressa and her husband are juggling it all while working from home.
“Mark and I take turns – whether it’s math, phonics, writing,” she says. “We throw-in some videos, maybe science, usually revolving around animals. Everything is in very short increments.”
“The students who are suffering the most due to the closure of schools are kids with disabilities,” says special education lawyer Andrew Feinstein who has been in contact with many families whose children have Individualized Education Plans or IEPs. He says there must be a period of “compensatory education” for this community.
“How compensatory education is going to work here is a huge challenge,” says Feinstein. “We have 80,000 kids on IEPS in Connecticut.”
And they all have unique needs. Educators are hoping summer school is a possibility. “I think we have to plan for two scenarios. The best, hoping for the summer and if we don’t have the summer, we need to plan for the fall,” says Fran Rabinowitz, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.
“We’re all saying a prayer that we’re going back on May 20th because having three, four, five months without supports until September would be devastating to a lot of special needs families,” says Faressa, founder of an autism support group, Sun, Moon and Stars. She is using rewards charts to keep Domenic on track.
She says her district has been fantastic and has had FaceTime sessions with her son’s teacher who is trying hard to help out.
Everyone agrees that collaboration and flexibility are a must as the future unfolds. “I think we all need to take a pause and have some grace and do our best to communicate with our school teams and districts to do what’s in the best interest of the children right now,” says Faressa.
Many districts suspended PPTs – Planning and Placement Team meetings – at the beginning of the school closures. Now, some are starting them up again in a virtual way, evolving with families’ needs during this uncertain time.