As we approach the eleventh week of a full-bodied lockdown of our schools, educators across the state are expressing concern over the continued onerous restrictions placed on our educational systems. The implications for all students are numerous — but of special concern are the ramifications that school closures have had on the most vulnerable of populations — students with special educational needs and learning struggles.
As the principal/program director of Ichud Mosdos Hachinuch Girls High School Program, a community-based program for students with learning differences, I am witnessing firsthand the regression of our students across the board, and on all levels — academic, social, and emotional. Despite all of our efforts — our masterful implementation of virtual learning by dedicated and competent special educators, our intense therapeutic response by our school psychologists and speech and language pathologists, the virtual learning experience is not an equitable substitute, and our students are suffering.
More sensitive to change and prone to emotional dips, our students are experiencing heightened feelings of isolation, dysfunction, and anxiety. Their melancholic states are peaking, as is their lethargy and lack of motivation to perform on an academic front. We have students for whom attention deficit disorders preclude their ability to tolerate virtual learning and so it has become a daily struggle for them to maintain attendance in Zoom classroom settings, or to participate in virtual activities. We have students with hearing impairments for whom learning is now compromised, and students with some emotional struggles who are at risk and are unable to be monitored as usual. We have students with learning disabilities who are drained from the added difficulty of virtual learning and are deflated by their failure to perform. There are those students with some social pragmatic deficits who are regressing sharply from the lack of human interaction, and others with compromised family dynamics who are missing the warmth , nurture and care of friends and teachers.
We all agree that the safety and health of our students and staff are of paramount importance — but in this case it is fully feasible to take all requisite precautions and resume in-person teaching and particularly to be able to conduct in person final exams, this June. With small class sizes and a teacher student ratio of about 8 to 1, we feel it is feasible and responsible to conduct exams in the manner requested, which would also provide a most necessary sense of closure for our students.
As a learning specialist invested in the academic, social and emotional success of struggling students, I respectfully urge and plead with our community and state leaders to recognize that for the special-education population, allowing in-person teaching to resume at this time — while maintaining social distancing and other safety requirements — is vital. We ask that expedient action be taken to include in-person special education in the list of essential services to open this month. We look forward to working with you in assuring our students the education with the quality and equity they deserve.
The writer is the Program Director and Curriculum Coordinator for Ichud High School.