I have two children, Kaleb, age 5, and Keenan, who is 22 months. I’m also a social worker. To say that remote learning and teletherapy has been a challenge is an understatement.
Kaleb has ADHD. He is a bright little boy who is funny and curious about the world. I’ve created a schedule for Kaleb and I have to follow this schedule 7 days/week for consistency. I’m also a single parent trying to raise an infant and do my job well.
I’m exhausted and I know I’m not alone. Overnight, my son went from a support team of 7—three therapists and four teachers to a team of one—me. Whether we continue remote learning or ease into a hybrid option, parents will agree that some things need to change. We need our teachers to do more live instruction. I’ve experienced days where I receive pre-recorded videos, an hour or two of instruction at most. I also receive packets with ideas for at-home activities and apps to use. Is this what the new school day looks like?
Also, most special education services cannot always be delivered effectively over the computer. I can facilitate some physical therapy and occupational therapy sessions. But the reality is that all of this requires me to be there and I’m fortunate to have some flexibility in my job. Most parents are not that fortunate. It is my hope that schools consider some in-person sessions this summer or fall. I would even welcome a practitioner to come to my home. Kaleb not only misses his classmates and actual playtime with his peers, but his teachers as well.
I’ve also seen technology get in the way of learning—and no action has been taken. As the parent, I’ve been proactive with troubleshooting. If a desktop app isn’t working, I’ll talk it through with the therapist and ask to give it a try on another device. If families aren’t trained to navigate technology, if they even have it, how can our children thrive?
I’d like schools to address what’s actually happening this summer and Fall, as well as plans for communication. We keep talking about missed services. My son has missed a lot of special education services this school year and he’s missing more without being able to participate in summer camp this year.
We also need to prepare kids with disabilities and parents for the transition. Even with behavior tools for young children like social stories, Kaleb will have a hard time understanding why some days he learns in his pajamas and now, why he has to get on a bus and go to school. And specialized transportation was already complicated without the social distancing factor. As a working parent, we can’t have an erratic rotating schedule. How will any parent go back to work?
And the worst things happen when schools don’t create plans to communicate with parents about building cleanliness and testing. How will we know if a child or teacher has COVID or been exposed? How will this be shared? We can’t safely go back to school without transparent communication.
Every child deserves a quality education, especially our kids with disabilities, who are often not considered a priority. In ordinary times, I have to advocate fiercely for Kaleb’s services on his IEP. I even have to request a climate appropriate bus—A/C in summer and heat in the winter.
Remote or not, parents, teachers, and staff all need to work together and do better.
Acola McKnight is a mom of two and a social worker. Her son Kaleb attends school in Harlem. For hundreds of free resources on special education and disability services, especially during COVID-19, visit http://www.includenyc.org and www.incluyenyc.org for Spanish.