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Education for Students with Disabilities: How to Help Them Continue Learning During COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted on 08 Apr 2020

5 min read
Education for Students with Disabilities: How to Help Them Continue Learning During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Educational Challenges for Students with Disabilities

The United States and the whole world must go through the pandemic of COVID-19. The struggle is still in progress and requires everyone to take efforts for the general sake. As a result, educational establishments are also going through numerous difficulties and must make important decisions to keep students safe. Everyone is asking the following questions:

Is it required to close schools and universities?

How to organize the educational process outside educational establishments? 

How long students have to follow self-education? 

What are the main challenges of closing schools for students with disabilities? 

The main points about education during COVID-19

The World Health Organization claimed the current situation to be a pandemic, and it causes a lot of changes for most people. More and more educational establishments are being closed. It is considered that soon there would be no open school in the traditional meaning. But it doesn’t mean that students lose their right to education. School administrations must consider how to help individuals with disabilities to continue their study and change educational plans according to current challenges. 

Here are important statements:

  1. The IDEA aims to help all students with disabilities to get a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). This statement is also guaranteed when an unexpected situation or crisis happens. The COVID-19 is one of such crises that means a solution for students’ community. 
  2. Schools and regional administrations must call out IEP teams. This action may be executed before they change the method and placement of education (for instance, a virtual, online, and other formats). 
  3. There are special instructions for all establishments that change the method of education. They need to: provide all students with access to educational materials; make easy wi-fi access for all people with such a right; make sure that students have all technical opportunities for education; create special services if students need it. 
  4. All students have rights for appropriate education, according to Section 504. Their accommodation and total support are guaranteed by numerous laws and inner guidelines. 
  5. Such complicated conditions mean that school administrations must coordinate their decisions and plans with parents. They are the most interested people to provide their children with a comfortable, educational process. Everyone must understand that such a situation is a challenge for children, teachers, and parents. That’s why they must meet each trouble together.

The crisis is going on

 

According to the information on Education Week, we can know detailed information about educational establishments. The report says that on the 12th of March, near 2097, schools decided to close their doors or change the educational format. Such decision influenced 1,305,611 students. Also, there are lots of private and public establishments for students in the USA. According to the last information, more than 50 million people are studying at almost 133 thousand schools. As a result, the spread of the coronavirus will impact more students by making the administration severe decisions to change the educational format or even close schools. 

At the same time, COVID-19 is not extremely dangerous for children and youth. Usually, it causes more problems for adults and old people. That’s why students don’t belong to the group with the highest risk. So, all people understand that while the child is not in danger, he or she can catch and bring a virus home. As a result, adults may become sick. That’s why adults who work with kids also risk getting infected because of numerous contacts with other people. As more contacts during the day, you have as many chances for a disease you get. This position influences the final decision to close schools and minimize contacts among people, no matter their age. 

Also, if the administration decides to close a school, this step can cause other risks. Try to put yourself in the students’ shoes. They lose an opportunity to be in the process of education. The pandemic literally interrupts their studying. If they need help or a recommendation, they have no one to talk with. Closing a school, we even make them going through problems with meals. The point is most parents work and have no real opportunity to stay home and take care of their children. The modern world compels them to focus on work to avoid the loss of a job. The teachers and other employers of the school administration also lose the opportunity of a stable job. 

If we talk about online education, we can understand that schools face numerous challenges. Unfortunately, not every establishment has a plan and resources to provide students with comprehensive remote education. At the moment, administrations do their best to prepare relevant plans in correspondence to the technologies and equipment they have. They pay attention to create relevant solutions that will match people with disabilities too.

 

Important requirements for students with disabilities

 

There is no difference between an average student and a student with disabilities in the eye of the law. Numerous state and federal laws guarantee people with disabilities have access to education. You may find relevant statements in the Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504. Long story short, thanks to this document, every child has a right to study in the relevant conditions according to his or her needs. There is a list of requirements that must be implemented by educational establishments. 

These rules are quite serious and make all schools execute such a set of requirements. But when a crisis occurs, all education establishments face unexpected situations. They haven’t enough power and opportunities to work in a normal way. Among such unexpected situations could be natural disasters, local or national emergencies, or pandemic like COVID-19. So we may use the experience of the precedents to get the best examples for further work. 

COVID-19 may become a unique precedent for future generations because it means people to stay in quarantine for weeks, months, or even more time. Let’s see the common features of the current situation with the last similar health pandemic. In 2009 we faced the outbreak of H1N1 infections. Yes, it was limited in time and location. It was an exceptional case. But in general, influenza didn’t cause emergency situations and serious changes in lifestyle for people. There was no need to close all schools and even cities. Today we have many serious problems that require urgent solutions. And it is vitally important not to forget about the students with disabilities. They are weaker and have fewer opportunities to serve themselves with anything, including education. 

According to the last changes, all educational establishments understand the relevance of world communication. To plan and satisfy students with disabilities, administrations and other people must coordinate all activities on the international level to let students keep their rights like IDEA states. 

The Department of Education of the USA published additional guidelines according to the world health disaster. In was released on the 12th March and meant the answers for the most frequently asked questions about the educational process. Here are these statements:

Question A-1: Does LEA mean the educational establishments must keep supporting students with disabilities even during the COVID-19 crisis that has caused schools closure?

Answer: All mentioned above documents, including Section 504, the IDEA, and so on, do not have the exact instruction on how to manage the work of schools after closure in the time of emergency situations. The COVID-19 belongs to such a situation. 

If the LEA decides to close educational establishments to help to decrease the spread of coronavirus, it means it will not allow students to get any services. And if the majority of individuals are unable to continue education, then there wouldn’t be any special services for students with disabilities. After school starts to work again, it will be required to resume the relevant services for children with special needs according to their individual programs. Notice that the new educational plan may differ depending on unexpected conditions. Besides, the IEP Team will prepare a special solution for students who require additional service to compensate for the missed time. 

In case the LEA keeps all educational services going on for all students after the school was closed, it also must be responsible for students with disabilities. They will be able to get the same program that is meant by FAPE, LEAs, and SEAs. All the mentioned above services must be available in the format that would be comfortable for children.  

Here are important statements from this portion:

  1. None of the mentioned above laws directly make educational establishments responsible for handling all issues with its closure because of coronavirus. 
  2. In case when LEA does not allow the general number of students to keep studying, it is not responsible for supporting children with disabilities. But after everything resumes its work, such schools may be required to propose all students’ additional services to compensate for what they have missed. 
  3. In case when LEA allows the general number of students to keep studying, it is responsible for supporting children with disabilities during the outbreak. This position aims to let all students have equal rights for their education.  

There are also special guidelines on how to deal with infected students, how to help them with educational services, and so on. The full documentation will be useful to make such, and lots of other questions clear.  

The new rules were accepted on March 16th by the Civil Rights Office of the Department of education. It is quite common with the previous guidelines, which were made on March 12th and covered the same issues. In addition, the new document explains how IEP Team meetings will be held during the time of school closure and the requirement to keep a social distancing. Here are several important statements from this document:

  • There is no need to make personal meetings for IEP Team while the buildings are closed. If the student with disabilities requires an assistant to meet in person, then such an issue should be delayed until the school opens. 
  • If the IEP Team has no opportunity for meeting, its members can hold a teleconference or use other methods for remote conversations. If any issue requires personal discussion, it must be delayed until the school opens. 

 

The best strategies for education during the school closure

 

Unfortunately, there is no clear tip on how to help students with disabilities during such a crisis. That’s why the best way is to consider all possible options and choose the most relevant and comfortable. Here is the list of available methods to keep children learning their educational programs without interruption. Besides, thanks to brainstorming and close cooperation between schools, the administrations can prepare more great tips for education during coronavirus pandemic. The key idea is to keep all children’s rights and let them get all they need. 

  • The online education. Modern technologies allow students and educational establishments to implement different methods for online studying. Such an option is not worldwide, but many states propose such an opportunity. Education via the Internet has lots of advantages. It includes numerous benefits of traditional classroom lessons with online learning. When the country faces with COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, online education seems a very relevant format for students with disabilities. At the same time, to start a virtual lesson is not so easy. This option requires quite a strong technical base with hardware, teachers’ skills, software, time, support, computers, etc. There are several subjects, for instance, physical therapy, that could not be conducted without a personal appearance. Also, online education may be difficult or even inappropriate for several groups of students with disabilities. Modern technologies help to deal with the mentioned challenges, but of course, none of them were ready to work during the COVID-19 crisis. To improve this process, you can see helpful resources, for instance, the websites of special centers, associations, and so on. 
  • Independent education. This is another format of the remote study. Its main particularity is independence from the Internet. Students don’t need to prepare computers and other equipment to keep their learning. The key elements of independent education are copies and related documents. In such a situation, students with disabilities may need additional support, for instance, the delivery of printed workbooks. 
  • Blended learning. This is a type of education that includes traditional and virtual materials. The new experience of COVID-19 spread demonstrates that standard models of blended learning may not be good right now. But it doesn’t mean that schools can’t use several advantages of it for distance education. For example, traditional workbooks and written materials can be useful for students who study at home. With the help of modern technologies, these materials may be used together with online content and create a comprehensive lesson. Students with disabilities will have all opportunities to use blended education during the pandemic period. 
  • IEP, and Section 504 Teams. While school administrations and regional organizations prepare the community for the possible closure of all educational establishments, the IEP and Section 504 Team should plan meetings. They may consider how to provide students with and without disabilities with comfortable, educational programs without interruption. Basically, home education may be a priority because it becomes the most appropriate place to continue education in safe conditions. The work with students with disabilities is essential because they have more issues comparing to other students. 
  • Compensatory education. According to unexpected circumstances and other conditions, the IDEA explains that students with special needs may get educational services retroactively. Such a decision is fair and possible if individuals have no chance to receive full services in current conditions. As a result, the exact authorities will decide the number of hours and types of services to provide a student with. According to federal laws, a situation with COVID-19 belongs to such exceptions and means individuals can use this opportunity. For example, if a student with disabilities requires physical therapy several times per week, then after school reopens, he will get the exact number of hours of such services. Unfortunately, it is quite hard to determine the difference between those services that must be provided and those services that must be delayed. The final decision will make the IEP Team. 

Today we have an unusual situation with COVID-19. Most schools were not ready to change their educational process, especially for individuals with disabilities. But if the virus will spread, they will have no other choice then to adjust to such conditions. It means that administrations must close educational establishments and seek new, easy, and creative approaches to keep the educational process going on. The best way is the cooperation of schools, parents, and districts to find out and accept the most appropriate methods. Students with disabilities have special health issues that deserve additional attention. At the same time, such decisions shouldn’t make individuals with special needs to feel their weaknesses and dissimilarities.


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