One of the startling (she says, naively) things about this moment is just how comfortable we are with saying, “yes, not all kids are going to be able to access their learning but we have to teach the ones who can.” Kids with disabilities have largely been an afterthought in the pivot online as well. This is not about access to the internet or devices with which students’ can work. Those are tools. This is about the ways in which the inequities that are so embedded in our educational system are amplified in this crisis.
Access to the internet does not equal a learning opportunity. Sending families loads of links and asking students to Zoom for three hour class sessions is likely not conducive to student learning. Worksheet packets of review work or new content without instruction is unlikely to result in meaningful learning. What are we really doing?
States have been slow to issue guidance and support to teachers of kids with disabilities. The federal government has not offered a lot of reassurance. This is all new and all unsettling for so many reasons – unemployment rates are soaring, C19 is directly affecting more and more people every day, the isolation orders keep getting extended, and school years are either hanging in uncertainty or already cancelled. It’s a lot.
But, that does not stop us from reaching out. Do you have a child you serve who has disabilities, specific learning needs, educational challenges that you do not know how to serve in this context? Reach out to the family! Ask them how you can be of support. What would be helpful in this moment? Do they need resources, social stories, visual schedules, task analyses for new parts of the daily routine? Yes, all of our services cannot be delivered with the shelter in place orders but are we doing all we can do in this context? Are we supporting families in the ways they need? Are we staying in communication and offering our problem solving, our listening, our validation?
We choose, as a society, to keep people oppressed. An example of this is all the states who have found money to provide school age children with hot spots and Chromebooks in just a couple of weeks time. Those resources have been there. It took a crisis to get them into the hands of kids. If we believed every child is worthy of equal access, those devices would be issued at Back To School Night.
If we believed kids with disabilities have a right to access a free and appropriate public education alongside their peers, we would design distance learning with them in the forefront, rather than as an afterthought.
Amplify the inequities. Call them out. Let’s let this experience drive educational change. The kids who are readily accessing their distance learning opportunities would have been okay without it – let’s focus on the kids and families who cannot shift this fast. All kids are in the same situation right now, yes, but they are receiving wildly inequitable access. Who will feel the loss of instruction the most?
Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??). I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.