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The challenges of remote learning with three special ed kids at home

Most students are learning virtually this fall. (Seattle Public Schools, Facebook)

How is remote learning working out for kids who need more support? Eric and Deanna Fisher are parents who have four children learning remotely right now in the Northshore School District, three of whom are in special ed. They joined KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show to share their frustrations with this school year and what they want to change.

For their oldest, a freshman: “The schedule requires a lot of self-starting and what we call ‘executive functioning,’ the ability to manage your own schedule, to keep yourself on a routine, and to do your own work. There is instruction, and it is done via Zoom, but you are responsible for your own work, and for a kid like ours, that’s not the best method at all,” Deanna said.

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“For elementary, elementary is trying to take this model of we’ll just spend hours and hours on Zoom trying to mimic what a face-to-face classroom would be like,” she said. “But we’re putting kids in front of screens and asking them to interact as they would in the classroom.”

“For kids in special ed, that’s just not a functional environment for actual learning,” she continued. “And for our youngest, who’s in second grade, that means that I’m sitting next to him the entire time to make sure he just doesn’t get off and leave or click over to YouTube instead of being on his meeting.”

Deanna says it’s become a bit of a full-time job managing her kids’, online learning, especially with the added therapy.

“I call myself not so much a teacher — I’m more of a Zoom concierge. I’m making sure the doors were opened at the right time and that they get closed at the right time … I have about 10 different alarms set on my phone for whatever subject is supposed to be happening next, who’s supposed to be calling in, and which class,” she said.

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“I am fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom and I was before all of this happened. So a lot of my normal time has been dedicated to keeping the boys on track between therapy and school anyway,” she added. “And I’m extremely fortunate that Eric is working from home … But it is a full-time job to manage all of these different pieces of school, plus any extra therapy that the boys have.”

While some school districts have cleared in-person learning for special ed students, Northshore hasn’t yet. What does Deanna feel is lacking in terms of support for parents of special children using remote learning?

“What needs to change is the fact that we’re lacking transparency from the top. The governor passes the buck to OSPI. In April, Superintendent Reykdal was doing weekly video updates, and in one of them he was specifically asked about special ed, and his response was, ‘Well, that’s really the responsibility of the school district to find out.’ At that same time in April, the school district was looking at OSPI and asking for guidance. So there was a lot of finger pointing between the top, and that’s where really the failure began,” she said.

“Parents couldn’t get a straight answer on what was going to happen next, or how any of our kids would be prioritized,” she added. “In the meantime, the district and OSPI talk about equity. We need a recognition that this is not equity — the kids aren’t starting at the same place. The kids are losing time. They didn’t get a pause button. So we’re losing all of this time for early intervention, and for academic development, and for peer interactions. And this is time we won’t get back.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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