Special education is one of the most important aspects of a school, and one frequently is overlooked. My own family has a couple of teachers in special education, and I have heard the various tales, the horrors as well as the wonders. Under normal circumstances, it can be unpredictable, and a pandemic brings many new variables that make the unpredictability even more present. In this blog, I will attempt to unpack and convey the experiences of students in special education programs during a pandemic, while recognizing that each student’s experience varies on principle and I will not be able to relay a universal experience for students nor their specific circumstances. Nonetheless, I will address the inherent difficulties that come with remote learning for students who may need more than a more traditional academic setting.
The setting of learning has a great effect on every student especially those within special education programs. Throughout a regular school day, they can leave a traditional classroom and join a smaller one with their specialists. This type of separation from their day to day learning is a key aspect for students in the program, whether they practice reading or math or social behavior, they are able to do so away from the stress and distractions of a chaotic classroom. Remote learning takes away the separation between lessons. Instead of going to a safe space where they can focus on learning, they must remain in their homes. There is no inherent change of setting that can exist between the walls of the school. The pandemic has taken that away, which can make acquiring the desire skills trickier for students.
Some students, however, are able to thrive under this turbulent situation. While working closely with all of their teachers they are able to cultivate a great learning environment without the traditional distractions from school. Granted, there are many other distractions at home depending on living circumstances, yet some were able to push past this and achieve even more than they were able to under traditional circumstances. Their homelife and support system is strong enough to withstand the uncertainty and even thrive under it. My mom is a special education teacher and she frequently reflected on how pleasantly surprising it was to see how well specific students were doing. They were able to set alarms throughout the day to make sure they made it to class, they could chat and Zoom with teachers for help with assignments, and countless other tricks in order to succeed. Depending on many variables outside of students own ability or control they can and do succeed amidst remote learning.
The hybrid learning that my hometown and many other public school’s hopes to transition into soon was a bit more troublesome in the fall for this group of students. The routine developed both remotely and in school is disrupted by being forced to go back and forth throughout the week. Boarding schools will not have this issue, as most schools will be able to return in-person through rigorous planning done by each school. For many public schools, however, this transition to in-person does include a hybrid format prior to the return. The lack of consistency with hybrid is not easy for any student, let alone one who thrives on a specific routine. Fortunately for my hometown, the children under the special education program will be among the first to return to school and will hopefully be able to obtain the type of routine necessary for their success within the school. I hope this is true of other districts and that children under the special education program can receive the smooth transition back to in-person learning that they deserve.
School’s special education programs across the country have been put to the test amidst this pandemic. There have been wild successes as well as difficult circumstances just as with any other part of the school. The teachers and students have worked incredibly hard in order to stay on track. While every student has different experiences during the pandemic, those in the special education program are going to face even more challenges; though through their own hard work and the efforts of all of their teachers many are able to succeed under these turbulent times. Acknowledging the new pandemic learning through the lens of special education allows for yet another perspective that creates a fuller picture of education during a pandemic.