Once, Caitlin Parry taught a lesson to her preschool student while he climbed up stairs and over furniture.
“I was doing a rhyming activity with the kids and I had a mom have to follow her three-year-old around the house with an iPad as I called out to him,” Parry said in a phone interview on October 20.
The frustrations of distance learning are evidently exasperating for all parties involved: teachers, students, parents. Parry, who is a special education assistant at Chase Street Elementary School, said it’s hard to get students in a routine with constantly-changing protocol, not to mention the difficulties of getting a young child to focus on a computer screen.
“I feel like it’s a wasted year almost,” Parry said. “We’re doing our best and some of our kids are excited to log on, but I don’t know how much they’re actually grasping.”
For students in special education, as Parry explains, hands-on learning is imperative. She primarily works with preschoolers, but also helps out with fourth and fifth graders. She sees most kids have to have their parents with them every step of the way. It’s hard to hold the attention of the older kids, whereas the preschoolers aren’t really able to control devices on their own. These issues are only compounded by lagging technology. Parry notes hotspots given out by the district don’t always work.
“I think a lot of learning, especially for children who have special needs, is done emotionally,” Parry said. “One of the things that we focus on is their emotional growth and development. Through a screen, they don’t have that kind of connection.”
Services within special education students’ Individualized Education Programs, known as IEPs, have resumed. This includes adaptive P.E., speech services and physical therapy. However, such services don’t always translate so well over a screen.
Moving toward the classroom
Parry’s insights exemplify that larger issue at hand. According to the recently released The State of Special Education in LAUSD: Fall 2020, approximately 76 percent of parents said their children with disabilities can’t learn effectively through distance learning. What’s more, 74 percent reported regressive behaviors while learning from home.
In developing the report, 300 parents with students in LAUSD special education were surveyed. Analyzed data looked to assess experiences from the first one and a half months of the 2020 school year. Among five prioritized actions, the report recommended that LAUSD must find a solution to provide in-person special education services.
Late Thursday afternoon, the Los Angeles Times broke that county officials are dropping a requirement for schools to provide a letter of support from employee unions as part of the waiver application to reopen. The announcement, made by Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in two conference calls, aims to streamline the application process.
This decision follows Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s announcement on Wednesday that all L.A. county schools can open to 25 percent capacity for students with special needs, such as those with disabilities and who are English language learners.
“Many schools have used this program to bring a large portion of their students back to campus, recognizing young children are unable to learn online,” Barger said.
L.A. County officials deliver COVID-19 updates (October 21, 2020) https://t.co/aPduua5UeJ
— Los Angeles County (@CountyofLA) October 21, 2020
Is there a right option?
Talks about reopening have been on-going between UTLA, the teacher’s union, and the district. On September 29, UTLA voiced their concern by stating schools are still not safe to physically reopen, given Los Angeles was and is still in the purple tier of county risk level.
“We know some of our most vulnerable students — our younger students, those with special needs and English Language Learners — are more acutely impacted by remote learning challenges,” UTLA President Cecily Myart- Cruz said. But we also know that it is those same students’ communities — predominantly communities of color living in poverty — that are most acutely impacted by this deadly virus. It is not easy for educators to see any student struggling. But we must let science and these realities guide our actions.”
Parry understands the concern among the teacher’s union about going back too soon. Looking at her own young students, it is near impossible to not share toys or keep hands out of mouths throughout the day.
What’s more, some teachers are even overcoming their own technology learning curve. Nevertheless, Parry said teachers are working as hard as ever.
“I have been both working from home and going on campus to my school site and teachers are there and they’re trying to make packets that the kids can take home,” she said. “I think they’re working twice as hard as they would in a normal classroom trying to make sure…that kids have what they need and are engaged as possible.”