Online learning presents unique challenges for special education students and families

Education

HUTTO, Texas (KXAN) — Many parents say they feel overwhelmed right now as they teach their children while working from home or looking for a job.

But one mom reached out to KXAN and shared that trying to help her son who has special needs is extremely difficult. She said they need more help from their school district and relaxed standards from the Texas Education Agency.

“If we can’t get all this work done — is my son going to fail?” questioned Dominique Severson. “I know I’m not the only parent feeling this way.”

Severson went from full-time mom to full-time teacher. She’s teaching her eighth grader history, science, robotics, art, and math. He’s autistic and has ADHD and the amount of work and the need to meet deadlines is demanding on both of them.

“Normally when I’m in class, there will be people around me and I’m used to that. But here, it’s just me, sitting alone in the room or with my mom,” said 14-year-old Ryan Smith, Severson’s son.

Hutto ISD administration recognizes the challenge and wants to help out their students and those parents.

“You’ve really got to drill down to the individual student to figure out what they need,” said Hutto ISD assistant superintendent Robert Sormani.

Sormani said his administration recognizes that every student learns differently and he’s instructed his staff to tailor the curriculum for each family based on their needs, if possible.

For the parents who may feel overwhelmed, he wants them to come forward and share those challenges so teachers can make the necessary changes.

“We have built the whole system around maximizing the flexibility the teachers have in working with parents in designing individualized education,” Sormani said.

The assistant superintedent said he placed extra thought in developing the special education curriculum during the first week of online learning. Teachers have provided their input and have been reminded that offering flexibility with deadlines and assignments is okay. Paper packets have also been distributed to families who believe online work is just too stressful.

Severson has asked for relief and it’s been granted. She hopes other parents out there will do the same if they need it.

“We have all of our life on our shoulders right now and its really hard to focus on taking care of all of this classwork on top of all of our life issues,” Severson said.

Hutto ISD admin said they are willing to make special arrangements for all children and their parents, no matter what their level of learning is.

Sormani suggests having a conversation with your teacher to discuss your work schedule or other barriers to learning.

Special Ed at other districts

Austin ISD has an online portal for Special Education classes. But some sections, including speech language and the visually impaired sections, say “coming soon.”

Round Rock ISD’s Home Learning Club has a similar section. There are links there to other resources.

TEA Guidelines

According to the Texas Education Agency, advancing grade and other benchmarks now fall under each school district’s authority. The state agency said that’s due to the STARR test being cancelled in the spring 2020.

The Texas Education Agency said it has posted guidelines for districts on its website.

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