Special needs families struggle in Distance Learning

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Special needs families struggle in Distance Learning“It is ironic that we are taking all these precautions to make sure that we don’t spread COVID to our most vulnerable population, but in education those seem to be the very ones falling through the cracks.”

Such was the comment of one parent of a special needs student, expressing frustration at the many challenges these students face in accessing the virtual learning environment.

So far, Sierra Sands Unified School District has not been authorized to allow in-person interaction for any of its 5,200 students — including some 700 with handicaps that warrant an individualized education plan.

The state of California has pledged support for the special needs community. But without in-person supervision and assistance (something public health officials have not authorized for our county), parents report that some of the accommodations being offered are not adequate for meaningful engagement and enrichment.

“You can build the most high-tech school imaginable. But if you don’t have a ramp, the students in wheelchairs are not going to be able to get through the door.”

Some families have been able to draw more deeply on their personal resources and support networks to find assistance in monitoring children who are left alone with a laptop (many of whom cannot read, type or even speak).

But the concern remains that a prolonged period of inadequate educational interaction could cause students to lose ground on some of the most hard-won skills — some of which may be unrecoverable.

“I don’t really know that the school district can do anything else, but I am completely heartbroken by what I see happening. We are failing these kids,” said Cherish Rindt, founder of Ridgecrest Autism Awareness, which has been an advocate for the local special needs community.

“We, as a community, have to figure out a better way to meet these needs.”

Pictured: An autistic 5-year-old retreats within the first hour of Distance Learning, which offers limited access for students with special needs.

Story First Published: 2020-08-21