The daily responsibility of advocating for a child who has special education needs bears heavy on their parents. I know this from personal experience. My brother had learning disabilities that required special instruction techniques and therapies. As the older sibling, I vividly recall my parents advocating for him over many years to find resources that would ensure he received an education that would allow him to flourish. My parent’s dedication and tenacity — along with my brother’s hard work and persistence — eventually paid off. He went on to earned both a bachelor of art degree and a master of art in teaching. He became a fabulous teacher who has now been in the classroom for more than 20 years. But finding the resources he needed and deserved to become a productive member of society took a toll on my parents. They constantly worried and advocated during years of incorrect diagnoses. In addition to being advocates, parents of children with special education needs often have to function as part of their child’s teaching team with extra tutoring and support at home. For the parents of children with profound needs, this can extend to providing medical support and constant supervision required to ensure their child does not harm themselves, or in some cases, others. In the best of circumstances, being a responsible parent to a child with special education needs can be very difficult. During the covid-19 crisis, these responsibilities are magnified with challenges increased many times over. Students and families are isolated at home. Resources are limited, including delivery of online special education and other needed support, such as occupational and physical therapy. As with other aspects of education during this pandemic, gaps that were already present have expanded, pointing out changes that must occur to benefit children in the long term. These are my proposals for addressing some of the top challenges in special education:
The requirements of a student’s current individual education plan (IEP) must be fully and faithfully met. If the resources are not in place to do so, or AACPS cannot meet the standards of a given IEP, then the child must be moved immediately into a situation where the IEP requirements can be met. Everything possible must be done to avoid a reoccurrence of a child dying while under the care of AACPS due to an insufficient number of aides or other resources as happened in November 2019. Individual assessments of special needs children must be done early so interventions can occur early in a child’s school career. Data show that the sooner students’ needs are addressed, the easier it is to get them on track for success. The longer a child is left to struggle without adequate diagnosis and support, the more difficult it may become to mitigate the child’s learning challenges. In addition, early assessment makes it likely the student will not become discouraged and fail to engage with learning. Early assessment leads to a greater likelihood that a student with special needs will earn a high school diploma. Communications between parents and special education teachers must be as transparent as possible, especially in this pandemic environment. Distance learning simply does not support many parents and children with special education needs. Every effort must be made to help parents as they work to supplement their children’s education at home. Through clear communications, now is the time to plan for how these children’s needs will be addressed in order to regain the ground they may have lost while school buildings have been closed. This will require sufficient numbers of special education teachers, aides, and therapists to engage individually with students as soon as possible, including through the summer.