Extra support for special education students to help them through pandemic changes

Published: Aug. 27, 2020 at 6:07 AM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - As the fall semester begins at public schools across Kansas, many special education students will have trouble coping with the big changes brought on by the pandemic.

Beth Orth is a Parent Educational Information Specialist for Families Together, Inc. in Wichita, which helps educate special needs families about their rights. She’s also mom to two children with autism, one of whom is still in school; and, she has more than 20 years of experience as a special education teacher.

If special needs students have to learn remote this fall, like they did in the spring, Orth said they’ll again be without some key tools, like therapies and instruction that requires in-person delivery.

“Many kids with special education services need in-person manipulatives,” said Orth. “They really work concretely and need supports.”

She said some children may be forced to work remote because they are medically fragile.

Whether they learn in person or in the classroom, Orth said special education students are entitled to any educational format offered to general education peers. She said schools must implement Individualized Education Plans (IEP).

“Through these plans, [students] can continue to get services and should continue to get services. It’s just going to look really different, and maybe you have to think outside of the box,” said Orth.

Orth said her daughter Tristen did not do well learning remote when schools closed in the spring.

“Tristen loves to be social. Her favorite time of the day is to take a walk around the building and say hi to all the teachers,” Orth said.

This fall, Tristen will be back in the classroom; however, she will need to adjust to many changes at the physical school building. Orth said Tristen loves the lunchroom and recess, so social distancing will be a challenge.

“Add in the sensory components of wearing the mask and understanding somebody else who’s speaking through a mask, it’s going to be very challenging for her and for all these kids,” said Orth.

Orth encourages families that need support to reach out to Families Together, Inc., the parent information center for the state of Kansas.

“We’re here to help to empower and educate parents with special needs kids on their rights, what the school can provide for them, and how they can communicate better and more successfully with the school to be able to get the support that they need, especially during this time when things are so uncertain,” said Orth.

Families Together, Inc. is available to help families navigate the special education system. It has locations in Wichita, Garden City, and Topeka. It also offers a Spanish information phone line. Click here for contact information.

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