Families navigate in-person, online instruction for special education students

VIDEO: Families navigate in-person, online instruction for special education students

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In the first week of school, families and educators are navigating ways to help special needs students in various learning models.

Kat Bodkin’s son attends James B. Elementary. She decided to choose online learning for the first few months in order to avoid any potential exposure or unpredicted quarantine that could be overwhelming for her son with autism.

“That can be detrimental for a child and their progress going back and forth in their routine between school and home,” Bodkin said. “Having that consistent routine is very important.”

But online learning last spring and now has been a double-edged-sword as other challenges present themselves during digital learning.

“There was a huge regression because he ended up seeing the screen as work and he did not like that, and he was very confused,” Bodkin said. “We saw some behavioral setbacks as well.”

Meanwhile in Berkeley County, Nicole Valentine decided to send her student with special needs back to Westview Elementary. She says in the first week of school she has already been impressed by the amount of work put in by special education teachers.

“It’s just a huge blessing for us to be in Berkeley County and to be able to have Charlotte go face to face for school,” Valentine said.

But for others, she said most of the teacher’s work also falls on parents who instead choose online learning.

“I’ve heard quite a few of my friends who are doing the online learning with their special needs children and they’ve thrown their hands up in the air and said ‘I can’t do this,’" Valentine said.

Berkeley County coordinator Leander McGuigan said teachers are having daily meetings with families, and the district is sending materials home for students with individual learning plans.

“This is a learning curve for everybody,” McGuigan said. “So really partnering with that parent and seeing what they are able to access in that home environment and what they aren’t able to access we’re definitely providing so they can have that same educational experience.”

Officials in Dorchester District Two and Charleston County also say they are working with parents to assess learning levels for online and in-person courses.

While DD2 has started all students online, Dr. Toni Cappelletti, director of special services, said the district will prioritize special need students when returning back to classrooms.

“This is our second day of e-learning and so we are adjusting to this new world of virtual education,” Cappelletti said. “But bottom line we want our students with special needs back in the classroom as soon as possible.”

Stacy Lauderdale Littin at the Lowcountry Autism Foundation said outside organizations can provide critical resources for parents to go beyond district support.

“To provide some schedules, some social stories, some ideas about motivation and reinforcement in order for parents to better meet the needs of their kids at home,” Lauderdale Littin said. “Most parents are not trained in that. They don’t know how to provide that reinforcement.”

Other Lowcountry organizations offering support to families with special needs students include the Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities and the Family Resource Center for Disabilities and Special Needs.

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