Education During COVID-19
LAUSD: What Is The Plan Going Forward?
COVID-19 has brought chaos to our students, especially those with special education needs. How will we help them recover?
When they do eventually return to school, how are we going to make up for this time?
When Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) superintendent Austin Beutner says that “the public health crisis created by the coronavirus is not something any of us could reasonably have expected to happen,” he betrays his incompetence. After all, experts had been warning about the threat of a pandemic for years, if not decades. As the leader of the second-largest school district in the country, Beutner had a responsibility to have plans ready for these types of health emergencies sitting alongside those for earthquakes, wildfires, and other threats faced by the students the district is obligated to protect.
With a district woefully unprepared to face the crisis, teachers were left scrambling as schools were forced to close in March. As the closure extended, the district struggled to get the technology needed to put distance learning into effect into the hands of students. While some students transitioned easily into the new educational environment, many others struggled daily along with their parents. The District assuaged the problem by declaring that “no students will receive failing grades on their spring report cards.” In fact, “a student’s grade will be no worse than what it was on March 13, the final day of campus-based instruction.”
For many children with special education needs, the problem has been worse. Students who require intense individual attention face additional struggles in transitioning to distance learning. Teachers and support staff are doing their best to compensate, but how can they possibly replace in-person instruction when the student is unable to form any kind of a bond over a video stream? The disruption in one on one access to programs for speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavior modification has caused many students to regress.
To compound the problem, the district has fallen out of compliance by not holding the Individual Education Program (IEP) meetings in a timely manner for many students. These meetings are the primary touchpoints that parents have to discuss their child’s progress and to make appropriate plans for the following year. As an example, the IEP for one of our daughters was held over Zoom, but we have not heard anything about our other child and our questions to her school have gone unanswered.
Perhaps the most affected by the closures have been those students with moderate to severe disabilities who will never get to return to the classroom because they have reached the maximum age of 22. While there seems to be a concentrated effort to recognize the achievement of graduating seniors who are missing rights of passage like grad night, prom and the graduation ceremony, many families of young adults who are aging out of the public school system are feeling like they are being set adrift without being given the means to reach their next port.
The transition out of the LAUSD can be stressful for these students even under normal circumstances. Their final hectic months are spent coordinating with agencies outside the district and ensuring that the proper plans are in place. The closure of schools in March not only meant that they lost their final months of instruction but also the last months of making final preparations. Without these plans, many families are in a state of panic.
The district has been working to get parent input into what school will physically look like next year. As important as this is, the district’s leadership needs to also let parents and guardians know what the plan is for making up lost ground. While banning failing grades protected GPA’s, it did not do anything to make up for the failure to learn the material, especially if summer school just provides the same type of instruction. While a student with special education needs may have checked in with a speech therapist over Zoom, are they actually going to get the hours of meaningful services that their IEP specified? Will the district bring back students who have aged out so that they can receive the services that they missed and properly prepare for their transition out of the public education system?
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, an appointed alternate to the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” Links to his blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.