The Impact of COVID-19 School Closures on Children with Disabilities

Danielle Shapiro (College’20) April 06, 2020


When Georgetown University announced that all classes would move to remote, online methodologies on March 13, it felt as if the world was ending for most of us Hoyas. Being a second semester senior, these last two months of school were meant for us to make final memories with our friends before heading out into the “real world.” If you asked me about the situation two weeks ago, I would have said that seniors in college got the worst of the school closure scenario. Our graduation and celebrations were cancelled and our young adult days ended in a blink of an eye. However, as I reanalyze the quarantine these past two weeks, I realize how lucky I am to have had 16.75 years of education in the classroom. As a senior in college I am capable to log onto online lectures and teach myself concepts from a textbook. Even if this was not the case, losing my last two months of my education would not make a significant difference in my development or future success. This is not the case for elementary school students that are in the middle of their foundational years.

Public and private primary and secondary schools across the country have shut down and switched to remote learning due to the coronavirus outbreak. In California, schools are required to provide “high quality education opportunities” but only “to the extent feasible” (Harrington, 2020). Although teachers are connecting with their students online and sending families learning packets, this does not equate to the same learning done in the classroom and parents are now feel the pressure to teach their children the curriculum. This is especially difficult for working parents or parents with multiple young children. How can a parent teach their first grade child how to read while also teach their third grader multiplication and work from home? A child in primary school requires hands-on teaching. A parent juggling five other responsibilities cannot provide their child with the adequate teaching that their child needs to succeed, resulting in their child falling behind in school.

Children with disabilities and their families face even greater pressures with the school closures. If schools stop providing educational services to the general student population, then they are not required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period. If schools continue to provide educational opportunities to the general student population, the schools must ensure that students with disabilities also receive free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the greatest extent that it is possible (Question and Answers, 2020). However, it is nearly impossible to provide all students with disabilities the services they require from home. Special education instructors, behaviorists, and speech and language therapists, among others specialists, will not be able to work directly with students for the foreseeable future, which may interfere with the child’s progress or attainment of IEP outcomes. Additionally, schools have provided little or no instruction on how parents or teachers of students with disabilities should proceed with teaching (Levine, 2020).

During this period, no student will be receiving the education that they deserve, but school districts must still do their best to make learning also accessible to all students with disabilities. Because special education services are often put to the side, parents must hold their children’s schools and school districts accountable. Initially, parents should try to be patient with therapists and instructors because this new learning environment is an adjustment for everyone. After that, parents should ensure that the school provides them with a remote education plan, and they should track if their child is following the progression of their individualized education plan. If the child is regressing, parents will have a stronger case to receive more support when school reopens. Lastly, parents should also track the type and frequency of special-needs services that their child is receiving because the child will still be entitled to the services they missed once schools reopen (Levine, 2020).

Our current situation is extremely stressful and uncertain for everyone, but providing all children with the best education possible must be at the top of our priorities. It is essential that schools, teachers, and parents work together and communicate so that children are still given the opportunity to grow and learn during this time. The quality of a child’s education can impact the rest of their lives. We cannot let these school closures contribute to children’s failures.

References:

Harrington, T. (2020, April 5). What California parents and students should know about the coronavirus: a quick guide. Retrieved from https://edsource.org/2020/coro...

Levine, H. (2020, March 31). Parents and Schools Are Struggling to Care for Kids With Special Needs. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/0...

Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019. (2020, March). Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/qa-covid-19-03-12-2020.pdf