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Special Education Is In Limbo In The Age Of Coronavirus

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For students with disabilities, school is more than just a place to learn.

Speaker 1: 00:01 This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm wearing Kavanaugh and I'm Jade Hindman a week into school closures. Some parents of students with disabilities are already in crisis mode. KPBS education reporter Joe Hong spoke with the parents and experts about what special education will look like in the age of Corona virus.

Speaker 2: 00:22 Uh, it's been pretty stressful. Um, just trying to get situated with having the kit. Yes ma'am. Okay.

Speaker 3: 00:31 Christian Sanchez and his wife have five children, two with special needs. One of them, his six year old has ADHD. His four year old daughter is on the autism spectrum. She had just been approved for a whole host of special education services just weeks before the Corona buyer's outbreak started shutting down schools. Now the family of seven is just trying to adapt,

Speaker 2: 00:51 just trying to get, kind of create an order here is, uh, has been a little difficult as well because the kids are used to getting up, going to school and you know, following that routine. And now it's like mommy and daddy have to be the teacher.

Speaker 3: 01:04 The Sanchez children are among thousands of students across the County who receive special education services like speech therapy and occupational therapy. Parents likes to harsh Sheffa have seen their kids improve during the school year.

Speaker 4: 01:17 He was putting two word utterances together. Um, he's starting to put three to four word utterances. He starting to recognize sight words, just things that I'm getting used to the routine of school itself. He started getting toilet trained at school, which was completely shocked because it's something he does not do at home at all.

Speaker 3: 01:38 Sheffa has a five year old son named Cameron on the autism spectrum. She's afraid Cameron's probably worse. It will be undone during this time away from school

Speaker 4: 01:45 with a child with special needs. It's kind of as with any child, you're afraid of regression, right? But with a child with special needs, it's like once they regress, getting them back to where they were takes a much, much longer period.

Speaker 3: 02:00 And while district's rollout plans for virtual or distance learning, those plans might not be feasible for students with disabilities. Chris Brahman is a special education professor at San Diego state university. He said for many special ed students, school isn't just the place to learn. It's a way to structure their lives.

Speaker 5: 02:17 Kids in special ed really rely on the predictability, the consistency in the routine of a given school day of the, the whole structure of school, so that alone is just really disruptive.

Speaker 3: 02:29 The federal government is currently considering waiving some requirements for districts regarding special education services, but San Diego students will likely get some support from their districts. Carrie Schakowsky is the executive director of special education at the San Diego County office of education.

Speaker 1: 02:45 The response from the 42 districts within San Diego County has overwhelmingly been, we want to serve students,

Speaker 3: 02:52 but providing services like one-on-one speech therapy or occupational therapy will be a challenge in a time of social.

Speaker 1: 02:59 We will look at the different services that students have and make individual determinations about what is safe, what is feasible, and what would be meaningful.

Speaker 3: 03:10 Experts like Schakowsky and Brum. See parents can find high quality special ed materials on district and university websites, but without the core services they need. Students like Cameron are in limbo.

Speaker 4: 03:22 It scares me a lot because my son, like I said, he's just, he's breaking through to becoming verbal. Like he's right on that cusp and I just have a feeling that it's just going to, hopefully it won't. We're going to do everything we can, but I can't predict anything.

Speaker 3: 03:41 Joe Hong K PBS news.

Speaker 1: 03:42 Joining me now is Chris Braum SDSU special education professor who was quoted in the piece you just heard there. Um, Chris, welcome.

Speaker 6: 03:51 Hi. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: 03:53 You know, in Joe's piece we heard from Sahar, her son Cameron is on the autism spectrum. Chris talked to me about the range of challenges students with special needs are facing.

Speaker 6: 04:04 Yeah. Um, you know, [inaudible] like I said yesterday, consistency, structure and routine are how our kids in special education really thrive. Um, and you know, with specialize in individualized support that they received from training professionals in school. So now that, all of that, the way, um, it, it's really a struggle for them.

Speaker 1: 04:25 And I'd also like to remind our audience, if you are a parent that would like to share your experience and trying to help your child do school work at home, call us at one eight, eight, eight nine five five, seven two seven. Or if you've just got a question for our guests, give us a call. Again, that number is 1888955727. I'm Chris, we heard that Sahar son Cameron is no longer able to get speech therapy and occupational therapy. Now that schools are closed in an effort to obviously slow the spread of Corona virus. What are some other services children with special needs aren't able to access right now?

Speaker 6: 05:03 Um, it's really anything that is that we, um, require that one-on-one support. So occupational therapy, speech there, physical therapy, um, that, that they receive on school sites.

Speaker 1: 05:17 Mm. And so, I mean, how can he, can parents reach out to providers of those types of services right now?

Speaker 6: 05:22 Yeah, absolutely. And I encourage them to do so, you know, shoot an email to your, to your unrelated service folks that are listed on the IEP. And just ask them what you can do to support the retention of the child's skills, you know, don't, um, I, I would hate to think that parents stressing themselves out thinking that they now have to replace the special ed teacher and these related service people, but really just, you know, reach out to them and think of ways that you can just support on what they've been doing in school.

Speaker 1: 05:51 Right. And I'd like to bring a Mickey appease into this conversation. She's a fifth grade teacher at Zamorano elementary school. She was San Diego unified elementary is teacher of the year back in 2015 she's been teaching grade school for 17 years. Uh, welcome Miki. Hello. So can you tell me a bit about your experience during this school closure?

Speaker 7: 06:14 Um, it's been a very interesting and challenging experience. Um, we only found out the Friday before at about 11 o'clock and school gets out at two that our kids are going to be off for this extra time. So we all frantically tried to prepare our kids as best as we could in that very limited time. Um, reminding them about the websites, trying to get together packets. Um, but it was very, very short notice. And now trying to, um, connect with them online is something that we're all trying to learn how to do right now.

Speaker 1: 06:45 Sure, sure. And you know, we heard in the piece before this interview that that Cameron's mother was really afraid he would regress. I'm sure this is a concern for teachers as well, right?

Speaker 7: 06:58 Oh, it's a huge concern. Um, we have officially been told that we're closed for the three weeks. One of the weeks was spring breaks, but hearing that, um, LA has decided to close til May 1st. That starts to make us get really nervous too because they're talking about six weeks of learning time for our kids. And, um, that does make me very nervous. Cause even when we just go on two weeks of break, they come back and they've unfortunately often lost a lot. So there's rebuilding that and it makes us very nervous to think about, uh, the retention.

Speaker 1: 07:30 Yeah. You know, if parents don't know what school work their kids should be doing right now, what would you recommend? Um, so the number one

Speaker 7: 07:38 resource that I would recommend that I'm actually using with my own two children, I have a seventh grader and a second grader is Khan Academy and that's spelled K, H a N. and right now they have the resources for kinder through 12th grade. So even if you're a high school teacher, a high school student, they've got biology, chemistry, American history, they have math, every math class you could imagine. And they also have beta, which is their testing, but it's completely up and running for ELA for second through eighth grade. And that's what I've been using a lot with my own, uh, my own children.

Speaker 1: 08:14 Oh, those sound like great resources. Um, we've actually got a caller, Kelly keen with San Diego Jewish Academy. Uh, Kelly, how are your students and parents coping with the school closures?

Speaker 6: 08:25 Well, I mean it's, it's turned to everyone upside down, so certainly we're, um, we're trying to get our sea legs here, but things are going really, um, quite well as we adjusted very rapidly, almost overnight to transitioning our entire format to online. So, um, we're pleased with how it's going so far and we're listening to parent's feedback and making adjustments to make it the most beneficial we can.

Speaker 1: 08:53 Kelly, thank you so very much for your phone. Uh, Mickey, if students don't have online access or access to a computer, what non-digital things would you recommend they do

Speaker 7: 09:04 first, I'm definitely reading every day. Hopefully they have some kind of reading material in their homes. I know that I opened up my own personal library before my kids left and I said, go ahead and take what you guys want. So definitely reading every day but also getting outside and their own backyards if they can. And exploring and talking with their parents playing games, if they have board games, those would be all really great. But I did also want to mention if they don't have computers, a really great resource, it is called computers to kids and the website is C two sdk.org and you can get a laptop, um, for about $80 and a desktop for about a hundred dollars. There is an application, it is income-based, but that would be a really great resource for parents to get onto it. And during this time.

Speaker 1: 09:49 Wow. And again, if you are a parent that would like to share your experience or if you've just got a question for our guests, give us a call. The number is +1 888-895-5727. Again, that number +1 888-895-5727. Uh, Chris, I want to bring you back into this conversation. You encourage parents to utilize online resources to help educate their kids while they are out of school and learning remotely. But uh, you have a bit of a caveat to that, correct?

Speaker 6: 10:19 Yes. I'm really be careful of what's on the internet, you know, um, think, consider using our, try to really use vetted, um, sources from trusted entities. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff out there that'll just say, just because it does the word education on it doesn't necessarily mean that it was, um, well by people who really, we can trust to know what they're doing to best support our kids.

Speaker 1: 10:42 Mmm. And what are some of the resources you recommend?

Speaker 6: 10:46 Um, I really love, um, the tween Tribune. It's a resource, um, published by the Smithsonian and it's a different grade level of reading materials, articles of high interest and you can actually adjust within the grade level, the actual reading level. So it's a great resource to meet the needs of all learners. Um, and you know, parents, it's an easy way for parents and the children together to engage in a purpose driven activity where they um, pick an article of interest then read it and maybe then explore it a little more on the internet by finding some other sources about that topic.

Speaker 1: 11:18 And Mickey, what about you? What resources do you recommend in regards to that?

Speaker 7: 11:22 There's something that's very similar to that. It's called news ELA, but spelled news ELA and I believe right now they're offering their, uh, normally paid service for free since due to the school closures. And it's also similar to what Chris was speaking about where it's various topics. They have a lot of current event topics, but all the way through history and science topics. And you can adjust the level for your kid. Um, according to their reading level and according to the grade level. Also BrainPOP and BrainPOP jr for our elementary school kids, they are offering free access due to the school closures and my own daughter really loves those and they were really great resources for your kids to keep up on their ELA.

Speaker 1: 12:04 Great. And we've got a caller, Francis he is calling in. Francis actually is calling in with a question. Francis, how are you today?

Speaker 6: 12:12 Fine, thank you.

Speaker 7: 12:13 Hi. Um, what is your question?

Speaker 6: 12:16 My question is what does San Diego unified school district doing to maintain contact? Academic contact with every one of the students of every teacher they have online access and for the kids who don't have computers at home, packets of work can be delivered with the free and reduced lunch. But I didn't hear one word about district provided academic material and regular contact between teachers and students. I have several grandchildren in the schools and one out of 15 teachers in those three kids experience has maintained academic contact with her students. One out of 15.

Speaker 1: 13:03 [inaudible] Francis, thank you so very much for that question. Mickey, are you able to answer that?

Speaker 7: 13:07 Um, that's a really difficult question for me to answer. As an individual teacher, I'm not a district level employee. I know that as a teacher we have been encouraged from our principals to maintain contact and I have done that on my Google classroom. Um, and given my students those kinds of opportunities. However, there is not a directive right now that that contact has to be maintained.

Speaker 1: 13:34 Hmm. What, is there anything that you'd recommend?

Speaker 7: 13:37 Um, I would definitely recommend if you have questions to seek to reach out to the teacher. Unfortunately, I have had very little um, contact with my parents from the parent end, even though they all know my email. So I would say 100%. If you are feeling like you are not being supported, the teachers are still, um, many of us are still really trying hard to reach out. But if you're not feeling that the teacher is supporting your students, email them. Uh, unfortunately you can't call them at the school. So that makes it a little bit difficult. But definitely email the teacher, ask questions, reach out to the teacher would be my number one push for today. Like, reach out to your kid's teacher. They are waiting. They want to be with your kids. We're not, this is not fun for us. Most of us are very devastated that we are not being able to be with our students. I miss my students desperately. Um, I know all of my friends that are teachers just, we want to get back into the classroom. We want to be teaching our kids. So reach out to the teachers.

Speaker 1: 14:33 Yeah, absolutely. Again, if you've got any questions or would like to share your experience and trying to help your child do school work from home, give us a call. The number one eight, eight, eight, nine, five, five, seven, two seven. Again, that's one eight, eight, eight,

Speaker 7: 14:48 eight, nine, five, five, seven, two. Uh,

Speaker 1: 14:52 Chris, we actually had a question from online J to P J depose, uh, told us that his child has recently been diagnosed with autism. He was given a packet of work to do, to work on, but, uh, he's had trouble concentrating long enough to do the work. Do you have any advice for Jay?

Speaker 6: 15:12 Yes, absolutely. Um, so try to build that structure and routine structure and routine at home. So I have a designated space where you do your work and just be really clear about the expectations. Um, you know, for example like, Hey, you know, we're going to sit down and we're going to work for 10 minutes and you know, outline the different tasks that you're going to do. You don't think of it like a, a story, you know, we like when stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, and we're very clear about those different segments. So say, you know, we're going to sit down and first we're going to, you know, [inaudible] this book and we're going to talk about the characters and then read through it. And you know, we're going to wrap up with some questions about what we read. You know, just trying to be very clear with your student about what you, uh, what's your child, sorry about what you expect them to do during that time. Um, and, and don't be afraid to jump and small chunks with, with some breaks built in there some opportunities for exercise or just to kind of give their brain a little break.

Speaker 1: 16:09 [inaudible] good advice there. Hey, uh, Mickey San Diego unified and Los Angeles unified have requested additional funding from the state to cover costs related to the pandemic. If this goes on much longer, uh, you say they will be incurring additional costs to get all students ready to learn remotely. Talk to me about that.

Speaker 7: 16:26 I would definitely be an additional cost. Um, the remote learning requires a device for each student and even to say just for each home isn't quite enough. Cause if you got three kids trying to share a computer is difficult. So you're looking at a device for each student plus paying for their internet access because in order to, uh, put it on learning, you have to provide those things. You can't say, okay, you're going to go online, but you have to provide all of that because in America we are guaranteed a free and public education. So that would become very expensive if these closures continued and they tried to move everything to distance learning.

Speaker 1: 17:03 Mmm. And you know, we've heard from overwhelmed parents who have said that now they're homeschooling their kids. Chris, you encourage them to look at it a bit differently.

Speaker 6: 17:13 Yeah. Thank you. You know, um, think of it as a time to have some meaningful engagement with your child. Um, you know, try to see it a little more optimistically of, you know, don't take the burden or the weight on feeling that you have to provide all, all the education to your students. Um, really think of some purpose driven, creative ideas, um, that you can do with intention. Sometimes the process and learning is equally or more important than the actual outcome.

Speaker 1: 17:41 Well, you guys have both given some valuable information today that I hope a lot of parents out there find a useful in this time and it's challenging time. I've been speaking with Chris Braum SDSU special education professor and Mickey yuppies, a teacher at Zamarano elementary school. Thank you both very much. Thank you. Thanks for having us.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.