Where Are Kids With Disabilities in COVID-19 School Plans?

A new school year is always a challenging time for parents of kids with disabilities. It often means a fresh round of advocating for their child to get the support they need in an often overtaxed school system. Now add COVID-19 to the mix, and the challenge for parents is compounded.

I know I’m not alone in wondering: where are kids with disabilities in COVID plans?

I recognize we are all navigating new territory. COVID-19 continues to challenge educators and infectious disease experts on how to balance educating students and keeping them, and their families, safe. My concern is with these new burdens, educators will have even less time to provide the support kids with disabilities require and deserve.

EA Shortages

In a typical school year, educational assistants (EAs) are stretched thin. They often spend their days traveling from classroom to classroom, supporting a number of kids. In our school of 450 kids, we require four EAs but will only have two for the upcoming school year.

With the COVID restrictions and the need to limit the amount of contact between classrooms, it’s obvious that kids with disabilities will get even less support. These are the same kids who often struggled with distance learning, with many having not had EA support since March.

As a mom of a child with disabilities, I’m anxious about the new school year. I’m less anxious about the risk of my child getting COVID-19 and more anxious about him falling further behind by not getting the support he needs.

We’ve already spent the summer months juggling four days a week of tutoring. This was necessary to help make up for the weeks of missed in-classroom instruction, as distance learning was a disaster for our son.

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Parent Input

In a normal year, I would meet with our principal and new classroom teacher in late August to discuss our son’s needs and review (and possibly advocate for) supports for the upcoming school year. This would be to set the stage for September, with a follow up meeting a few weeks into the school year to check in with the teacher and EA.

The purpose of these meetings is to make sure my son doesn’t get lost in a class of 25 kids, and to ensure learnings and recommendations from the previous school year roll over to the current school year — which doesn’t always happen without parent advocacy.

This year, advocating for my child will be more challenging than ever. Why? Because now the principal and teachers are fully focused on COVID-19 procedures, social distancing, new classroom setups, learning groups and more. They have a lot on their plates and trying to sort out how to support a kid with disabilities is one more ball to juggle. They can’t do it all, nor should it be expected.

Our schools need more resources to support kids with disabilities. But where are they? I have heard nothing about more EAs, resource teachers or other in-school supports. Nothing.

I get that the focus needs to be on preparing for a COVID school year. My concern is kids with disabilities will be left behind. Further behind than they already are. And this gap will impact everyone — teachers, students and especially the kids who need extra support.

As the clock runs down on the return to school, I’ll be busy asking questions about how our vulnerable learners, and teachers, will be supported in this “new normal.” We all need to be asking more questions and advocating for kids with disabilities to ensure they aren’t left behind in what promises to be a challenging school year.

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