‘There’s no win in this’: Parents of Central Florida special needs students struggle with back-to-school options, decisions

‘There’s no win in this’: Parents of Central Florida special needs students struggle with back-to-school options, decisions

ORLANDO, Fla. — As parents across Central Florida face uncertainty and tough decisions heading into the next school year, some parents of students with special needs say the decisions carry extra weight.

Many special needs students receive one-on-one assistance from paraprofessionals in class, and online education is simply not feasible for those with certain conditions.

Four parents of special needs kids from four different Central Florida counties spoke with Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray about the stress of the upcoming school year.

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“I’m stuck in the only option I have,” Soren Richardson, of Orange County, said. Her son, 5-year-old Luke, has Down Syndrome.

“It’s hard on everybody to figure out what’s best,” Kim Penny of Volusia County said. Her daughter, Zoe, has a rare condition called Sanfilippo Syndrome, which impacts her body and her brain.

In Seminole County, Megan Giddens said the decisions are made harder due to vitriol on social media.

“I feel like there’s a lot of almost bullying going on with parents,” said Giddens, who is the mother to a second grader, Brianna, who uses a cochlear implant due to hearing loss.

“There’s no win in this for everybody,” said Jonathan Pogar, of Brevard County, whose fourth-grade son Andrew has autoimmune encephalitis and is on the Autism spectrum. His condition could become deadly with COVID-19.

These four parents don’t know each other, but they are all feeling the uncertainty of the upcoming school semester.

“Everything they say, everything that rolls out, is for typical kids. There is no plan designed for students with an Individualized Education Plan,” Richardson said. Luke will attend his third year of VPK through Launch-ED at home, though Richardson said he needs one-on-one time and socialization. “We were not considered. It’s very easy for the district to say, ‘we will make it work,’ but that does not give me any reassurance, anything concrete to work with.”

Penny feels the same way. Though she is happy Volusia Schools has provided several options to choose from, she is keeping her kids home.

“It’s like most all the time, the kids with special needs are not the forefront, even though they are the ones we should be going off of,” Penny said. Volusia Live, the district’s plan for virtual schooling, will not give Zoe access to the paraprofessionals who help her sit still and focus in class.

But staying home isn’t always an option. Giddens’ job is considered essential, and she fears Brianna won’t be able to hear well through a distance learning option. She and her brother Tyler will be attending class in person at Seminole County Public Schools.

“Some people do have special needs kids who need that face-to-face interaction,” Giddens said. “The challenge is the attention span, and then there’s still a communication barrier there. She’s still learning to use her cochlear implant, so when you put her in front of a computer, it makes it that much more difficult.”

Though the Pogar family in Brevard County agrees that online instruction won’t work for Andrew, concerns about his health have the family hoping for a scholarship to help pay for a private home school tutor.

“Whether you have a normal-functioning child, or a child with special needs, everyone has giant hurdles to figure out,” Pogar said.

Read Orange County Public Schools full response below:

The district has a total of 23,459 students with an IEP. Included in the Innovative Reopening Plan (LaunchED@Home) is information pertaining to students with an IEP. It includes the following:

Specialized Instruction for Students with an Individual Education Plan

As students return to school and instruction, OCPS will evaluate the needs of our students and provide services as appropriate. Parents will also have the following options if they choose the OCPS LaunchED@Home model.

• Students will be able to follow a regular school day schedule and view live teacher lessons from their OCPS device

Students with Disabilities (SWD) Following General Education Standards

• SWD that are on General Education Standards will follow the grade level standards with any appropriate accommodations

• SWD that need academic support in their general education classrooms, will receive virtual support and instruction from their General Education Teacher and their Special Education Teacher

• The Special Education Teacher will work in collaboration with the Regular Education Teacher

• SWD that are on General Education Standards and receiving support and services in a self-contained setting will receive virtual support and instruction from their Special Education Teacher

Students with Disabilities (SWD) Following Access Point Standards

• SWD that are on Access Point Standards will follow Access Point Standards with any appropriate accommodations Support Services

• Many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online

§ These may include, for instance, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing (USDOE, 2020)

• ESE Staff members that provide services for specialized areas (Speech/Language, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Vision, Deaf/Hard of Hearing) will review student IEP’s and determine which services can be done remotely

• In the event, that a service cannot be performed virtually, online, or telephonically, the parent will have the opportunity to schedule face-to-face services at their enrolled school

• Services conducted in a face-to-face environment will use enhanced safety and health protocols

Support Services

* Many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online

  • These may include, for instance, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing (USDOE, 2020)

* ESE Staff members that provide services for specialized areas (Speech/Language, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Vision, Deaf/Hard of Hearing) will review student IEP’s and determine which services can be done remotely

* In the event, that a service cannot be performed virtually, online, or telephonically, the parent will have the opportunity to schedule face-to-face services at their enrolled school

* Services conducted in a face-to-face environment will use enhanced safety and health protocols

The district has also agreed to the following assurances regarding IEP students:

Assurance 2: The district must provide the full array of services that are required by law so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick and mortar school have the opportunity to do so. These services include in-person instruction, specialized instruction for students with an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) and those services required for vulnerable populations, such as students from low-income families, students of migrant workers, students who are homeless, students with disabilities, students in foster care, and students who are English language learners (ELLs).

Specialized Instruction for Students with an Individual Education Plan

• IEP teams will continue to meet to discuss the needs of students

• OCPS will continue to provide specialized instruction at brick and mortar schools for students following both general education and access point standards through a variety of service models including, self-contained, resource, and inclusion

• OCPS will continue to support programs for gifted, deaf/hard of hearing, and visually impaired instruction at brick and mortar schools

• OCPS will continue to provide support services at brick and mortar schools including assistive technology, early intervention, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, school health services, transition services, and ESE transportation

• To ensure that medically fragile students and those with significant cognitive emotional and cognitive disabilities continue in-person instruction safely, teachers, staff, behavioral support, and crisis management teams will have access to PPE, including gloves, masks, face shields and gowns, as necessary

• PPE must be worn by medically fragile students as well as those with significant cognitive and emotional disabilities just as their general education peers and staff when social distancing is not feasible

• If physical prompting or restraint of a medically fragile or exceptional student is necessary, PPE must be worn

• If a student has a medical plan, it will be followed according to the child’s individualized needs

Assurance 4: The district will work with IEP teams to determine needed services, including compensatory services for students with disabilities. School districts must immediately begin working with IEP teams to identify students who may have regressed during school closures. IEP teams must follow a student-centered approach with a commitment to ensure that the individual needs of each child are met.

• The district will work with school based IEP teams to identify students who may have regressed during school closures. Data collection using OCPS approved measures, as well as classroom data, will be reviewed when making a determination regarding regression. IEP’s will be reviewed by the school team in collaboration with the district to determine if compensatory services are required. The need for such services will be individualized and based on data

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