LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- With many schools offering online-only learning at the start of the school year, some have expressed concerns nationally as well as locally about the effect it could have on children with special needs.
However, distance learning has been a challenge for many students, especially those who need extra attention and hands-on instruction from a teacher like they are used to.
Leaburg resident Karissa Zurfluh has a son with quadripelgic crebral palsy. He is wheelchair bound, nonverbal and has a weak immune system -- which is why he is not in a public school.
Tutors and therapists were sent to their home from their local school district, but that changed once the pandemic hit.
“He just loves other people,” Zurfluh said. “When I try to get online to the schooling part and try to do some of the activities and stuff that they want him to do, he just shuts down. He wants nothing to do with it from me because he knows that usually somebody else comes and does it with him. That’s what he likes.”
Zurfluh said that she feels that her son is missing out and said she does trust the tutors and therapists to come back into their home with the necessary precautions. She hopes that can happen this fall.
“He’s not going to be in a crowd of people,” Zurfluh said. “We don't have to worry about the separation and distance and worry about the other kids bringing anything in.”
Other parents said there’s just so many moving parts, and major changes are more difficult for children with special needs to adapt to.
Ashley Robertson has an incoming second-grader with ADHD and mild autism. After the switch to online schooling, learning became far from easy for her son.
“It's really hard for him to focus on the computer, especially in a Zoom meeting where other people and other kids are playing around and doing stuff,” Robertson said. “I think it was hard for the teachers to try to wrangle everybody's attention so they can actually learn anything."
Robertson said that she believes students should be able to get back into the classroom with limited class sizes and proper social distancing and sanitization.
“I just want our school districts to be aware that it is really hard for us parents of kids with special needs,” Robertson said. “The online learning doesn't necessarily work for every child. A lot of kids have Attention Deficit disorders, or they just can't focus as well as they can with in-person interactions. So I think if we can come up with a safe way to do that, then I think that would be the best option for our kids in moving forward.”
Under the Oregon Department of Education’s “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” guidance, there is a recommendation to design schedules that prioritize meeting the needs of students with a disability or a special need.
ODE said that more guidance will be released next week.