It’s been nearly a year since schools shut down and students, teachers and parents began the challenging transition to online learning. While most experts agree that re-opening schools is critical for students and their parents, many believe that online learning in some form is here to stay.
According to research by the Rand Corporation, “About two in ten districts have already adopted, plan to adopt, or are considering adopting virtual school as part of their district portfolio after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
So, what will that mean for students with special needs? That depends.
Here are some of the pros and cons of virtual and hybrid learning models:
1. Safety First
Having an online learning option may benefit children who are medically fragile, especially until the threat of infection from COVID-19 is completely eradicated.
Online learning offers a level of flexibility that may benefit families and students with frequent medical and therapy appointments and those for whom traveling back and forth to school is stressful and/or time-consuming.
3. Therapeutic benefit
Some therapists see value in remote treatment because it gives them the opportunity to observe students in their home environments. Likewise, students can benefit from the opportunity to practice activities of daily living at home where they may need to use them the most.
4. Greater awareness about educational inequities
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the many inequities that exist in our education system. Those hit hardest by these inequities tend to be the poor and the disabled. “But some families and their advocates are hopeful that the pandemic could prompt a reckoning and systemic change,” writes Cayla Bamberger for the Hechinger Report. “During distance learning, educators have needed to get creative to reach all their students, leading to new ways of collaborating with parents and approaches to instruction that education experts say could be integrated into how schools operate going forward.” Now that many of us have become more aware of the systemic problems, there are opportunities to make positive change.
1. Learning is less individualized
Individual attention can be hard to come by in Zoom classes. As special education teacher Avam Rips told Today.com, “Part of what makes special education unique is that teachers create individualized education plans for each student. That’s harder to do when classes are held virtually; teachers have no choice but to turn to a “one-size-fits-all” model.”
2. Delivery of therapy services is challenging
During the pandemic, many children with disabilities missed out on the therapeutic services they need to thrive. According to Education Week, “Some special education students have gone months without occupational, physical, and speech therapy services and other supports. In districts that provided virtual therapy, parents were pressed into duty, forced to try to replicate the therapy that trained specialists would normally provide in school.” Hopefully, these issues will be resolved post-pandemic when schools are again able to provide in-person therapies.
3. Social skills development suffers
Children with social skills deficits may lose out on opportunities to practice social skills when they are learning remotely. Due to school closures, many parents of children with special needs are concerned that their social skills have regressed in the past year.
4. Remote and hybrid education models lack consistency
For many students with special needs, structure is key. Remote and hybrid schedules can be too disorganizing for children who require schedules and routine to feel safe and comfortable.
5. Stress on parents
Remote and hybrid education can be extremely stressful for parents, especially working parents and parents of children with special needs. To provide their children with the best care, parents of special needs kids need time to refuel while their children are in school.