Special education can be challenging for schools and families in normal times, but now teachers and therapists are delivering services online, parents are taking on heavier roles, and schools are trying to understand legally what’s required.

Federal and state officials are advising schools and parents to make “a good-faith effort” toward serving students with disabilities during coronavirus-forced school closures — rather than obsessing about normal legal rules that might be impossible to meet at the moment.

About 237,000 students in Ohio’s public school districts — about 15 percent — have been identified as having a disability, according to state data.

But even a “good-faith effort” at building a system that didn’t exist five weeks ago is quite a lift.

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“Olivia has Down syndrome,” Bellbrook mom Jenny Lake said of her daughter who’s in kindergarten. “She works with six teachers — a typical classroom teacher, an intervention specialist, a speech/language pathologist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and an adaptive PE teacher. … So I’ve just recently become all six of those people.”

Experts say special education is decidedly not a one-size-fits-all issue, ranging from students who have basic academic learning disabilities, to students with physical and behavioral disorders, to multiple-disabled students with major medical issues.

Consistency problems

Attorney Robyn Traywick of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality represents families in special education disputes. The wide variety of cases leads to inconsistencies, she said. A teenager with a learning disability might be able to participate in an online group lesson but an active 5-year-old with autism might be less likely to focus on a computer-based lesson of much duration.CoNatural

“I have some kids where the parent has yet to receive any communication from the school,” Traywick said last week. “I have others who are in their second or third week of occupational and speech therapy virtually. How is (the state) going to monitor this situation for equity? Right now, even in the same school district, it can be a huge difference from one teacher to another teacher.”WGU Student Portal

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The half-dozen local school districts the Dayton Daily News questioned all said they’re continuing special education services. Trotwood said meetings on students’ Individualized education programs (IEPs) continue online, and Mad River said students are getting teletherapy sessions. Centerville said teachers are incorporating household objects into therapies to help students practice a range of skills.

But educators also acknowledged struggles. Miamisburg Director of Student Services Katy Lucas said services “are going as well as can be expected,” but inherent hurdles exist.

“Most services that are provided in an individual education plan would be difficult to provide through a distance-learning format,” Lucas said. “Services by their very nature require real-time interaction between the professional and the student so that feedback and correction can occur at the exact moment it is needed.”

Traywick said the reality of the situation is, “there are kids who are going to be set way back by this.”

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