Elizabeth Aguilera and Richard Cano at CalMatters:
Across California, schools have physically shuttered as they make the unprecedented move toward online instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has upended almost every facet of education in California and the nation — but perhaps no other student group stands to be more affected than students with special needs.
Nearly 800,000 students in California receive special education services, accounting for almost 13% of the state’s student enrollment. That number doesn’t include the tens of thousands of children under age 3 who receive specialized services through the state’s 21 regional centers — which provide support services to special needs individuals — under the Department of Developmental Services.
Parents, educators and advocates who spoke with CalMatters shared fears that special needs children will not only regress in academics, but lose some of the essential skills they’ve developed while working intimately with teachers, paraprofessionals and providers such as behavior and speech therapists.
Regional Centers pay for needed services that schools and private insurance don’t cover, and now families are asking if the centers can step in as special needs kids are at home without their regular support services, said Amy Westling, executive director of the Association of Regional Centers. California also recently relaxed regulations to allow regional centers to approve virtual and online therapy sessions and to ease parent concerns about missing services, while also trying to protect their children, many of whom are medically fragile.
As schools shuttered their campuses, requests for specialized services have started to come in from families stretched to the max with kids off school and parents often trying to work from home, said Tony Anderson, director of the Valley Mountain Regional Center. The center provides services for 16,000 children in Amador, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties.
“Our people are working from home calling everyone on their caseloads, checking to find out what they need,” he said. “Regional Center was not created to replace systems like schools, but when there is no school going on, parents turn to the centers for help.”
Sonaliu Kohli at The Los Angeles Times:
Both L.A. County and the California Department of Education have said they are convening working groups or periodic virtual meetings of special education experts to discuss these issues and best practices.
[Superintendent Austin] Beutner has moved swiftly to provide meals and to secure computers and WiFi connections for students who need them. But his staff has not yet figured out how to adequately serve students with disabilities.
“You have to start with the child and figure out what’s best and work your way back,” he said. “And to do that, one by one by one, it’s going to take a little bit of time, we have people working around the clock on it.”