A Look At Special Education During a Pandemic

When schools switched from in-person classes to fully remote learning last spring, students, parents, and educators alike had to adapt to the new changes this type of learning brought. 

Whether it was learning how to use technology such as Zoom, finding new ways to teach a class of students through a screen, or keeping a child focused on looking at the screen – learning and educating proved to be a challenge.

Now, nearly a year later, these challenges are still prevalent as children suffer from behavioral, social, and educational regression, parents feel a sense of isolation, and teachers find it more difficult to teach whether the school is in-person, hybrid, or virtual. 

Educators have had to deal with teaching students both virtually and in-person (sometimes at the same time), keeping themselves, students, and other staff members safe when they are teaching in-person, and in some cases helping their own children with school work. The constant changes and uncertainty have forced teachers to be more creative and adapt their lesson plans in a short timeframe. They have also had to solve problems that may not have existed prior to the pandemic. This unprecedented time has brought challenges to all. 

Marla Soucy has felt frustrated throughout this time. Her 11 year old son Holden is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD. He has regressed educationally and socially during the pandemic. Holden’s at-home learning during the spring and beginning of the current school year did not work for him. Marla said, “it is frustrating because at-home learning is unstructured and there are so many distractions.” She said Holden would often hide under tables and run to other rooms during Zoom’s because of his lack of tolerance to sit still. 

Discussions between Marla and the school have led to Holden participating in an abbreviated 30 minute one-on-one in-person session with his special education teacher. While the half hour sessions have been a bit effective, the short meeting time hasn’t been as helpful as Marla hoped. “A half hour per day doesn’t give enough time or attention. He has fallen behind in learning and his mental health has been impacted,” Marla said. 

Along with her son’s regressions in the classroom, Marla has felt isolated from other families during this time. “The Family Support Conference being cancelled two years in a row has been a hard hit. It has been tough to navigate without having conversations and hearing experiences from other families.” She suggested that there should be a support network on Facebook or another online platform where parents can share stories with each other, give support to each other, and have conversations about how they are feeling. 

On a more positive note, Marla said she has enjoyed spending more time with her son. She noted he is a “funny kid”. She also feels as though her Community Crossroads Case Coordinator, Cathy Wahl is always someone she can talk to and will help out when issues arise. 

Sheri Bouvin, whose 13-year-old son is served by our area agency has been feeling a sense of frustration. Sheri said, “His IEP wasn’t completed on time and it has pushed back his goals being reached. In fact, I question if his goals are even being addressed”. She added, “From talking with other parents it is clear that many are struggling whether they are in special education or not.” 

She noted her son has experienced more anxiety throughout this time and the change from in-person learning to remote learning has been a challenge for everyone.

Sherri said, “At the beginning of the year, my son was struggling with wearing a mask and did not go back into the building. He was assigned to a remote team for his first trimester and then was reassigned to his middle school team for the second trimester causing more stress.” She added, “The school has been extremely supportive and allowed for my son to go into the building at a slower pace. This flexibility has allowed him to become more comfortable with wearing a mask and he is now making plans to be back at school four days a week.” 

However, throughout this time, Sheri’s kids along with  some of the kids who live in their neighborhood have participated in socially distanced outdoor activities. One game the kids created was tag but instead of tagging by direct contact, the kids kicked a soccer ball and if it touched another person they would be “it”. Sheri noted she appreciated the kids’ creativity that have led them to both having fun and being safe. 

Julie Blomberg’s16-year-old son Finn is served by Community Crossroads. When we spoke with her she mentioned switching back and forth from in-person learning to virtual learning has been difficult for him. Her son learns better in a classroom where there are less distractions and more organization. Finn participates in Boy Scouts and Karate and not being able to participate in his hobbies has been difficult for him. She noted it is important for kids to make social connections and grow their social skills but during this time that hasn’t been able to happen. 

She said executive functioning skills are on his IEP and having to keep changing the way he organized his work was difficult. She added his case manager was extremely helpful with this and would often check-in. 

As a preschool teacher, Julie sees firsthand how the pandemic has impacted the lives of younger children. The children are in class four days per week but she notes it is a “different feel” in the school because there can’t be lessons that require everyone to be sitting in a circle close together. “It takes more creativity to make sure the preschoolers are learning important skills and following social distancing protocol,” Julie noted. 

As a member of the Community Crossroads Family Support Council, Julie and others share stories about what they are experiencing and discuss ways to overcome some of the issues they face. 

In a recent article from they acknowledge the struggles students are having nationwide. Between IEP’s not being completed on time, and less focus on individual students in special education, there is worry about these students regressing educationally and socially. 

Parents who have a disability are also facing challenges during this time. If a parent is visually impaired or hearing impaired, they may not be able to help their child with their school work because of the way the material is presented. Robyn Powell, co-investigator with the National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities said even before the pandemic, school’s haven’t always lived up to their commitment to accommodate parents and caregivers with disabilities. Schools may be having a difficult time figuring out how to support a parent who has a disability. 

It isn’t just the students in primary and secondary education that could be falling behind. According to the 2019 Report on Disability in New Hampshire created by the Institute on Disability, “In New Hampshire, 49.1% of those age 25 and older have at least some college education.” NH sits in the top half of states in terms of people who have a disability receiving a college education. This is notable because it means colleges in our state need to have a department that is committed and willing to help those with disabilities receive the access and support they need to succeed.

College students with disabilities could be facing challenges such as difficulties with virtual courses, not receiving the accommodations they need, and/or increased anxiety. Due to the differences in the way special education is handled at a high school level versus a college level, parents of college students may never know if their child is receiving the accommodations needed for them to succeed unless they are told about it by their child. 

Students, parents, and educators are all experiencing many changes due to the pandemic no matter what learning level they are in. The best way to make it through these tough times are for schools and families to be open with each other about the challenges faced. It’s critical to have conversations about what can be done to make things easier for all involved and work as a team in the midst of change and uncertainty. 


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