The Impact of School Closures on Kids with Special Needs: A Parent Perspective

By Mayra Loza. Mayra is a Special Education Advocate at A2Z and is the mom to a child with special needs.

I’ve recently learned that LAUSD will be extending school closures due to the coronavirus, through the end of the school year.  As a LAUSD Parent of a child with special needs and a Special Education Advocate, I am extremely concerned about the impact that the school closures will have on all students with special needs, both short-term and long-term.

My son is a third-grader with Autism Spectrum Disorder. His IEP includes placement in a general education classroom with related services that include Specialized Academic Instruction, Recreation Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Counseling and Guidance, Speech and Language Therapy, Vision Therapy, Adapted Physical Education, and Behavior Support (1:1 behavior aide throughout the day and aide supervision). His access to his education highly depends on the supports, accommodations, and related services provided for within his IEP.

I am extremely worried about my son’s future, as it has now been three weeks since the school closures, yet all I have received from LAUSD are minimal assignments from his general education teacher which consists mostly of review materials (i.e., “busy work”), rather than instruction and materials that would prepare him for the next grade level.  LAUSD has not provided any direct instruction from his teacher or from his service providers through a distance learning model. The District has failed to do anything to ensure that my son can continue to work on his individual IEP goals and to make progress. There has not been any attempt to provide the related services outlined in his IEP.

“My biggest fear is that he will regress and never recover from this…”

Given that children with special needs are already prone to regression, I am extremely concerned that the gap will only widen, between my son’s skills and those of his grade level peers to the point that it will take many years to close that gap. I’ve worked very hard over the course of many years, pushing and demanding that the District provide the related services that my son clearly needed to address all of his unique needs. However, since the school closure, there has not been a single attempt to implement his IEP. What is most concerning and what keeps me up at night, is that it took many years to get my son to the place where he is now, and my biggest fear is that he will regress and never recover from this. My immediate thought is, my son is not expendable. He deserves to be educated just as all of the general education students do. At this point LAUSD has only provided empty promises for its students with special needs.

I’ve been sent links which do not provide any answers as to how my son will be educated and how he will receive his related services. Last week I was also sent a link consisting of some activities and resources pertaining to the different related services. Thereby, what LAUSD has done is place the onus of providing these services on parents who are clearly not qualified to provide such support. Further, the resources/activities are not individualized to address my son’s unique needs or to assist him in making progress towards his IEP goals.

The harsh reality is that without direct instruction through a distance learning model which includes all of his service providers and his teacher, there is no doubt in my mind that my son will significantly regress.

It is disheartening to see that other Districts have had their distance learning up and running since week two of the school closures, yet LAUSD is nowhere near that. All I hear is “we are trying to figure it out”, yet with every day that passes my child suffers the consequences. No attempts are being made to include parents in decisions through the IEP process. LAUSD needs understand that children with special needs are floundering and languishing. Every day that goes by that the District has not offered an appropriate program to our children, is not only another day of denying them FAPE but it is another day the District places them at risk for long-term harm. 

I do the best I can by providing instruction to my son during school hours so as to maintain a routine, some form of structure and normalcy. However, in the back of my mind I know that he is getting farther and farther behind as each day passes due to the District’s failure to implement his IEP in an alternative format. He is not being prepared for the next grade level. He is losing all of those skills that he worked so hard to obtain. I see that he is regressing academically, behaviorally, socially, motorically, and emotionally. I am not a teacher or a qualified service provider. I cannot meet his needs all on my own. LAUSD needs to understand the impact that this is having on their most vulnerable population and do something about it now, rather than continuing just to give excuses, empty promises, and useless resources.

They have a responsibility to educate all students and we need to hold them to that.

The US Department of Education (USDOE) recently stated that school districts should not close or deny distance learning opportunities, particularly because they can be used to provide services to special education students. The USDOE made clear that school districts can effectively provide many special education services via modifications, such as through video and telephonic conferences. However, to date that has not happened for students with special needs in LAUSD.  

The California Department of Education (CDE) has urged school districts to continue to provide special education and related services as outlined in the IEP through a distance learning model if they were able to do so through alternative service delivery models as appropriate for each student.  Per CDE, educational and support services provided should be commensurate with those identified in the IEP for each student to ensure educational benefit.

What is clear to me is that I could never satisfactorily serve the role of all of my son’s service providers and his teacher. My son has a 1:1 behavior aide that works with him throughout his school day due to challenges with remaining focused and on task, with self-regulation, and non-compliance. He requires prompting every few minutes in order to stay on task. This makes the task of teaching him, that much more challenging. I cannot sit with him for the entirety of six hours per day and simultaneously work remotely from home, and maintain my household. I’ve seen an increase in melt downs, aggression, frustration and beginning symptoms of depression since the school closures. LAUSD needs to really consider the implications of their actions or inactions.

To end on a positive note, what I am finding useful as I attempt to tackle this immense task of homeschooling my son to the best of my ability, is maintaining structure in my home by sticking to a daily routine that consists of academic instruction and embedded breaks, utilizing educational applications, and maintaining open communication with my son regarding our current state of affairs which includes answering all of his questions and discussing his feelings about it. 

I will do my part, yet I will continue to fight for all students with disabilities to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) as required by law.