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Survey: Students With Special Needs Are Struggling With Distance Learning, Parents Say

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The parent advocacy group Speak UP surveyed more than 300 parents of students with special needS in LAUSD and charter schools. (Screenshot from Speak UP report)
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Almost 75% of parents of students with special needs say their kids are showing signs of regression during distance learning – from meltdowns to attempts to hurt themselves – according to a survey from the advocacy group Speak UP.

Given that, almost 60% of the 313 respondents to the online survey said that if Los Angeles Unified found a way to offer one-on-one special services in-person, they would choose to send their child back to campus.

Among other findings in the Speak UP survey:

  • More than a third of parents reported that they have not received all of the support – things like speech therapy, occupational therapy, work with a behavioral aide, for example – promised in their child’s Individualized Education Program, or IEP.
  • Less than a quarter of parents said their children are able to “effectively learn and progress in their skills” while instruction and services are provided virtually.

The group did a similar survey in the spring, when campuses first closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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“Our recommendations are: communicate and collaborate with parents,” said Speak UP director of special education advocacy Lisa Mosko. “Stop shutting out parents. Ask them how it's going. And be more flexible and work with them.”

You can read the full report below.

In an emailed statement, an LAUSD spokesperson wrote, “Our teachers and staff have made heroic efforts to ensure students with disabilities and their families are connected to their school community and receive support during the pandemic. There is no question that being in the classroom is the best option for all students, but especially for those with special needs. We are developing plans on how students – including those with special needs – can return to the classroom in the safest way possible.”

More than 140 LAUSD schools have notified the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health of their intention to provide some type of in-person “specialized services” on their campuses.

But the district and the union representing teachers, United Teachers Los Angeles, have yet to figure out when and how to offer services for students with special needs in person, though earlier this month, they did strike a deal over providing tutoring and assessments to students who struggled the most under distance learning.

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Lynn Marie Mierzejewski teaches students with mild to moderate autism at Harmony Elementary. She misses working with her students in person, but she has emphysema and worries about going back too soon.

“We’re not doing this because we don’t want to work,” she said. “Since I’ve started teaching online, I’m working more than ever, but I don’t mind, because it’s for my students.”

UPDATE, 5:30 p.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from the L.A. Unified School District and additional reaction from Speak UP.

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