‘We’re running out of time,’ special education parents worry about lack of details ahead of reopening schools

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Schools will be back in session Aug. 17 and many parents still have questions about how the new year will play out during a pandemic.

Parents of special education students are included in that group of worried parents because they felt the district didn’t release any detailed information about what classes might look like, in person or online, for children with disabilities, specifically those needing a individualized education program team.

“Even as recently as last week, nobody was able to tell me what virtual would really look like for him. I was told that it might be links, it might be live, it might be worksheets, it might be videos, it might be apps,” Christie Rouse, a KCS mother, said.

Rouse’s 9-year-old son Payson is going into third grade at Adrian Burnett Elementary School. He has cornelia de lange syndrome, a rare genetic disease that causes developmental delays.

She said she ended up choosing in-person classes for him because he really needed in-person help with social skills, and he doesn’t have the attention span to pay attention to a computer screen.

Payson also doesn’t like to do classwork at home.

“He doesn’t like whenever I try to do things at home, he just gets mad. It’s a ‘we don’t school at home; that’s for school,’ and he has very clear boundaries on, ‘that’s for school work, this isn’t mommy work,'” Rouse said.

Even though she opted for online, she still had many questions about how in-person classes would be, and how easy those classes would be able to continue if the schools had to shut down again.

She said Payson doesn’t do well with change, so no continuity would create more stress.

Rouse wasn’t alone in her questions about special education classes for the upcoming school year.

A group of parents with children with disabilities now get together weekly via Zoom and talk through Facebook about what they know or what questions they have.

All were wondering how the district was going to handle special education classes in person or online, and what they needed to do to prepare for the new school year.

KCS posted an FAQ regarding special education classes.

Jason Myers, executive director of student support with KCS, said the district learned a lot about what can be done virtually for special education students through the extended summer program.

“We were really able to hone in and even do some OT, PT type things, speech and language services; things that really required us to, I guess, think outside of the box,” Myers said.

He said that because the level of disability for each special education student varies, there is no baseline plan for all students.

Beginning Aug. 3, parents will be able to meet with their child’s IEP team and learn more about specific curriculum for their child.

Rouse and other parents in the special ed parent group said the issue with that is every special ed student will need to meet with their IEP teams and get reevaluated, so they will have very little time to get everything done.

As far as continuity, Myers said there is a huge difference between what happened in March when the schools were shut down and this upcoming school year: The KCS plans, even for closure, includes the actual district to remain open, therefor IEP’s will be able to help provide more resources.

“Regardless of whether there’s a public health crisis or not, you know, the IEP Team has the authority to make a number of decisions,” Myers said.

One reason general education students will be prepared and have continuity if COVID-19 causes schools to close is every student will have a Chromebook to use at home.

Myers said the district ordered 300 tablets for special education students.

Special education parents were happy that they will have devices, but they said there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all device for students with different disabilities.

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