By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Distance learning is challenging for most parents, especially those who are working from home while trying to also oversee their children’s school work. But there is challenging and there is challenging.
Picture this: at school, your child has a one-on-one aide because your child is nonverbal, needs help with toileting and other tasks of daily living, and has attention issues. So much of your child’s day is made possible through physical assistance.
Now, with distance learning, there is just the screen. It can work, even work well, for some students. But for your child, it doesn’t work at all. You are just hoping – desperately – your child does not regress too much.
At meeting last week of the EG Special Education Advisory Committee, parents spoke about the unique challenges facing children with significant developmental disabilities and their families.
“The amount we’re putting on the parents right now is not humanly possible,” said one parent who has two children with special needs as well as holding down a full-time job. “Think of just one of mine, they need a one-to-one, with a dozen professionals, now I’m supposed to do all of that, with nobody, all by myself.”
“It is very concerning to all of us,” said Special Ed Director Lisa Hughes. “There is urgency.”
“I’m giving you my word that every child is important,” said Supt. Alexis Meyer.
On Monday, some SEAC parents met (online) again with Hughes to discuss plans for the future. At the top of the list was the “extended school year” program known as ESY, but more commonly thought of as summer school. Could a handful of students attend ESY this summer? It depends on the governor but parents urged administrators to explore options and be ready, just in case. It’s one thing to lose three months, yet another to lose six. And what if schools remain closed come September? Again, parents urged administrators to start planning now as well as to think about the present situation.
“I think we have to be doing baby steps with what we’re doing right now every day,” said one parent.
Nicole Bucka, a member of SEAC who briefed the School Committee Tuesday on the recent meetings, said she was heartened by the interest shown by many in the school community, noting that several administrators attended both meetings.
“That’s a level of respect for this population that we’ve been seeking for a long time. It really blew away our expectations and meant a lot.”
School Committee member Matt Plain said later during the School Committee meeting the district should prepare now to offer compensatory services to children who lose ground during distance learning.
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