Teachers, parents adjust to meet kids’ special learning needs

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Families and educators are relying heavily on communication and collaboration to ensure students in special education can be successful in a remote learning environment.

That teamwork has been necessary for districts across Michigan, but it’s even more important for kids on individualized education plans, more commonly known as IEPs.

“The greatest challenge that we have found is just accessibility,” Kent Intermediate School District Director of Special Education Kirsten Myers told News 8. “Really working with families that don’t have access to technology or have limited data plans or their cellphones have minimal minutes, and that’s been a considerable challenge in really trying to implement components of the IEP when there’s that barrier in working with families.”

As is the case in all districts in Michigan, Myers said there are concerns about the financial toll the shutdown will have down the line. 

Kent ISD is prioritizing working with families to figure out what works best while still striving to maintain IEPs that are typically followed in a classroom setting. Teachers are also documenting efforts in the transition to home learning.

“When you think about (the Individuals with Disabilities Act) from a federal perspective, it wasn’t built for this,” Myers explained. “So we are doing our best to meet the rules and regulations around IDEA and we appreciate families and their willingness to work around some of the barriers we’ve had based on moving into a distance learning format.”

Regan Johnson’s middle son Logan is a junior on an IEP at Northview Public Schools in Plainfield Township. 

“There’s a lot of adjusting,” she said. “A lot of adjusting work schedules and personal things. Granted, we can’t really go out and do a whole lot anyways, so it does kind of balance out to be able to do this learning at home.”

Her youngest is also still in school, sharing one computer with his older brother. Thankfully, Johnson has found a regimented approach that works for their family.

Logan is also meeting with his academic support teacher at least once a week. 

“Initially it was kind of off to a little rocky of a start because we didn’t really know what to expect, how to implement any of it. I’m a parent, not a teacher, so it was like switching hats and trying to figure out how to help him at home to just learn according to the things we’ve set out with him to do,” Johnson said. 

The closure of schools has made the mom of three appreciate teachers even more.

“I’m sure many of them have kids that maybe are going through the same situation,” she said. “They have kids that are doing at-home learning and they have kids to teach and time to take for those kids by doing meetings and things, and so it definitely gives me a bigger appreciation for those in any level of an education field.”

The additional obstacles educators may face once students return to the classroom aren’t lost on them, despite being heavily focused on supporting students in new ways right now.

“We do have concerns that we’re not able to navigate all of the supports and specially designed instruction that is within an IEP,” Myers said. “So our providers are doing the best they can under the circumstances and in knowing when we do get back to a school setting that we’ll have to really work with those families and those students to determine what needs we might need to increase as they come back into the school setting to really continue their learning and their progression forward.”