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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Students with Disabilties, Before and After the Pandemic

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges get far more intense during disasters.  And coronavirus is proving to be the biggest disaster of all. Providing education, social services, and therapies is proving to be very difficult.

 Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project has a report titled "Disabling Inequity: The Urgent Need for Race-Conscious Resource Remedies" by Daniel J. Losen, Paul Martinez & Grace Hae Rim Shin. From the executive summary:

Among the most critical pre-pandemic inequities that have not received sufficient attention is the fact that many districts are not meeting their legal and moral obligation to educate students with disabilities, which must include providing needed mental health services, behavioral supports and educationally sound interventions by well qualified staff. This report begins by revealing serious preexisting conditions of inadequate support that are likely to be exacerbated by the current pandemic. We also summarize the pandemic’s disparate impact, which is resulting in greater losses of instructional time amidst increasing experiences of trauma. This report argues that post-pandemic we will need to do much more than return to the pre-pandemic efforts in order to avoid serious and continuing hardship to students, and especially to students of color with disabilities. This includes, but is not limited to, additional steps to ensure that all students with disabilities who need supports and services to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) have those needs met, and that they are not excluded because of behaviors caused by their disability.

California is an example of pandemic problems. Richard Cano and Elizabeth Aguilera at CalMatters:

California’s decentralized approach to school reopenings this year has meant widely uneven opportunities for in-person services for special-needs students. As early as last summer, some public schools began offering in-person instruction or support to students with Individualized Education Plans — a plan every special education student has that outlines goals and includes special services they require as a guidepost for everyone who works with them.

Though the state’s reopening rules and a recent legislative deal prioritize in-person learning for special-needs students, many of the state’s large, urban school systems such as West Contra Costa and Los Angeles remain in distance learning.

Three-quarters of 300 Los Angeles Unified parents said their kids had regressed or lost skills, according to a Speak Up survey last fall. Though California’s largest school district has intermittently allowed in-person services for special-needs students, only about 1% of the district’s students benefited from it as it was based on educators and families volunteering to come back.

Those findings echo the concerns experts had when the pandemic started. Many students with disabilities require specialized care that one can’t reasonably be expected from parents, Connie Kasari, a human development professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, told CalMatters last March.

“It’s one thing to put a child who can understand in front of a computer screen to do their lesson, do their homework, and quite another thing when the child doesn’t understand that,” Kasari said. “What is that child going to do? It could be that they’re just not getting any kind of education at all.”