Distance Learning: Difficult for children with Disabilities

Emily Ness
Updated: May 03, 2020 10:40 PM

Schools are places in which children learn to read, write, count and grow. But now, homes have become schools and parents have had to take on extra responsibilities as a result of distance learning. And, while distance learning has been an adjustment for all, some argue—it has been even more of an adjustment for students with disabilities.


Jason Crane, Director of the Special Services Department at Duluth Public Schools said special education teachers have, at times, 17 or 18 students on their case load.

"We have an obligation to provide service, but at no time could a case manager provide the same services that they would if we were in school face to face with kids, so it is a challenge,” Crane said.

To meet this challenge, Crane said schools have amended students’ Individualized Education Plans, or IEP’s, to continue providing specialized instruction from a distance.

“We frame up our responsibilities around meaningful contacts with families so that’s what our goal is and we negotiate those plans with families and it is a due process responsibility to get a parent’s signature as well with the distance learning plan,” Crane said.

Through distance learning plans, Crane says students who utilize assistive technology at school have been provided that technology at home. Additionally, interpreters, mental health practitioners and check-and-connect mentors who normally work with students are available virtually. These services span from Pre K to twelfth grade.

Heather and Jake Lossing of Duluth have been distance learning with their son Evan, who attends Merritt Creek Academy, since the start of the Stay at Home order.

“It’s interesting the way that you appreciate people once you walk just a little bit in their shoes and I appreciate teachers for sure,” Heather Lossing, mom said.

The Lossings say their son Evan has ADHD, ODD and anxiety.

“One of the things that is really helpful at home is that he doesn’t have the other students around to distract him so that allows him to spend more time focused,” Lossing said.

Additionally, the Lossings say they have developed a reward system for Evan that entails taking breaks and playing games like Minecraft that keep his brain active.

“I think it’s important that parents don’t beat themselves up, you know. If he doesn’t get all of his math homework done today, that’s okay. Let him do a little more tomorrow maybe. If he needs a break from reading, it’s okay—it really is. They’ll get back on track—they will, eventually. If not at home, they’ll get back on track when they go back to school,” Lossing said.

The Lossing’s say that another positive factor in distance learning is Evan’s teacher, who has been there for him through it all.

“Evan gets so excited when she calls. As soon as he sees that she’s on the phone, he’ll light up and he’ll say: ‘Yay, it’s the best teacher ever!,’” Lossing said.

Across the bridge in Superior, Jolynne Berndt has been distance learning with her daughters Maddy and Alexys, who attend Bryant Elementary School. She says — Alexys is hard of hearing.

“She does have a hearing aid set that she is required to wear in school so that teachers have their own personal microphone and when they speak, it goes into her hearing aid, so she can clearly hear them,” Lossing said. “Now that she’s at home, her school has given us the hearing aid set along with the microphone and the hearing aids do connect to the laptop that we use through the school district.”

Despite this assistive technology, Berndt says her daughter is struggling, but understands it is not an easy problem to fix given the circumstances.

“I’m so far not seeing a whole lot that we really can do versus what the school district could be doing if they were in school,” Berndt said. “My other daughter that is in sixth grade that is doing online schooling does assist her a lot. So, she breaks down the math with her, we’ll break down the reading, writing, all the curriculum needed.”

During this time, Berndt said Alexys’ teacher has also worked to provide extra support.

“Her teacher does check in very routinely with us. About every couple days, she’ll email me wanting to see how things are going and how my daughter is doing,” Berndt said.

As distance learning continues, the parents say that other parents should be patient with themselves and their children, and should voice any concerns they have to teachers and administrators to insure their children have what they need.

“It’s so important that parents give themselves grace because this wasn’t expected so none of us had the ability to plan for it and teachers are prepared for students to come back and maybe not have as much knowledge as they would have had if they were in school because they’re with teachers every day and that’s okay,” Lossing said.

“I honestly believe that deep down, there could be a lot more help if we have to recommend it through the school district or recommend it through the school board and honestly as parents, I think we just need to keep plugging along,” Berndt said.

Crane echoed these statements by saying that he too is a parent learning more and more as distance learning continues, but advises that communication is key.

“I think it’s about engagement,” Crane said. “Ask questions, identify what your concerns and needs are as a family and don’t be afraid to vocalize that with your educational contacts. It might be a general education teacher, a special education teacher or at times, you might need to network with your school administrator to work out some of those concerns.”


Emily Ness

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