Let Freedom Ring!

Brian’s “virtual learning” for the regular school year has concluded, though there was nothing “regular” about these past 3 months at all. In fact, Brian was generally disinterested by this medium of learning and would communicate this quite often! He would attempt to turn off these Zoom sessions on multiple occasions and look away from the screen, as though to say “ I can’t see you”. On a few occasions, that is exactly what happened, when we were unable to connect with therapists and/or hear what they were saying, resulting in Brian getting up and going into another room. Technology can certainly have its limitations and I don’t blame Brian for his reaction. After several weeks, he was done with learning in a way that did not make any sense to him in most instances, and quite frankly, so was I.

There were also moments over the past 3 months when I was conflicted, riddled with guilt, as much as I was impatient and frustrated. I wanted Brian to glean something useful from these virtual sessions. I also had high hopes initially when I went through the huge manila packet of worksheets that came home in Brian’s backpack the last day of school in March. “ Maybe there will be some activities that we can do together”, I thought, as I perused the enclosed materials. By the time I reviewed the last pages of the packet, I realized that the chances of learning success for Brian with what was in front of me were slim to none. Yet, I didn’t want to have a negative attitude before we even got started. So, Brian and I gave it the “old college try” for a full 5 days. The result was minimal/ fleeting participation from Brian, (complete with his signature heavy sighs), while I did almost everything hand-over-hand with him. There were more verbal prompts then should have been allowed by law! We were more than done at that point.

Yet, I completely understand the rationale as to why the materials were sent home. School staff had to provide something quickly to students before the pandemic officially locked us all down in our homes. We’ve all seen worksheets before and have completed them ourselves as students, sometime during our educational experience. But for many special needs students, like Brian, they mean absolutely nothing and are a waste of time So, we continued to persevere in virtual learning, as I also wanted to support the school staff for all of their heroic efforts in trying to virtually teach a multitude of needs and abilities via group learning sessions and individual ones- what an impossible task! I have no doubt that the teachers and therapists were often as frustrated as parents and students were for both the same, as well as different reasons. All of us are trying to brave through this new, unchartered territory. While we certainly had some virtual successes, (much to my pleasant surprise), I have to say that overall the whole experience for us was a dismal failure. What remained were many days of frustrations, unmet IEP goals, and the uncertainty as to when our kids will finally go back to school. I am clearly unqualified to be Brian’s teacher, aide, and therapists all rolled into one person. It’s unrealistic anyway and quite candidly, being his Mom is more than enough for me.

Like many parents, I am looking for an endpoint, a deadline, as to when our children will finally go back to school. I was quite hopeful, like many, as we saw restrictions being lifted, more things opening up, less Covid hospitalizations, etc. A light at the end of such a challenging tunnel is always cause for great hope and propels us to “keep on, keeping on”. Our governor even announced last week that school districts could offer in person Summer school, virtual learning, or a hybrid of both. I see a light! This was beyond exciting and the information that many families were hoping to finally hear! Then less than a week later, this hopeful news of on-site learning ends up being a false alarm and unattainable after all. Permission was given, but not the proper guidelines/tools to make it happen, so back to virtual learning we go. Another epic failure that continues to marginalize the educational needs of most disabled students. Even worse, not one word has been said so far about going back to school in September or what the game plan is in order to make that happen. Even a “preliminary” plan would be better than no plan at all, which makes me wonder if that is indeed THE plan…

I understand that not everyone is comfortable in sending their children to school now, or even in the Fall and beyond. I also recognize that some hold different points of view regarding how the road to “Operation Back To School” should be implemented. Every family has unique needs, concerns, and ideas as to how this should happen, as it should be! However, each one of us should also have choices and the freedom to chose, as we see fit, the education of our disabled children, based on their unique needs. Virtual learning doesn’t work for the majority of disabled students, so onsite learning should also be offered as an option for those who wish to pursue it. Some private school programs are offering both virtual and onsite programs this Summer and I applaud them for leading the charge. Yes, this should be done carefully/ methodically. We can all agree that masks, hand-washing, social distancing, and taking temperatures are the right things to do. Yes, it will take time for students and staff alike to make things work and it won’t be easy at first. But, I believe that those schools which choose to proceed this Summer with hybrid programs will have a distinct advantage over those schools who wait until the Fall (or later). These schools will be able to see what is working or not, and continue to fine tune health protocols/procedures as they go along, according to their students specific needs, yet within the stated guidelines. These schools will be more prepared for the Fall, because of the extra time that they took over the Summer.

This surreal experience over the last 3 months should be an important lesson for all parents to make sure to keep a watchful eye on their disabled child’s educational rights, that they are never undermined, regardless of world circumstances or distractions. Our kids are really counting on us to always be that persistent voice that ensures their freedoms, educational and otherwise. It is a huge burden that comes with a heavy price, but a necessity for the rest of their lives. I wish it wasn’t so hard, particularly in times like these, and especially because it doesn’t have to be! There should never be only a “one size fits all” solution for any challenge, nor should only one choice be imposed upon everyone. In the case of special education, one way of teaching is not individualizing instruction according to need, it is the complete antithesis of it. This approach is a set up for failure of achievements every time.

Despite my frustrations, I try to remain positive, as is my nature. I am hopeful that with time, things will continue to get better on all fronts. Restrictions are being lifted, Summer is almost here, and our vacation at the beach starts next weekend, a respite Jim, Brian, and I desperately need and are looking forward to. My husband and I will continue to persevere on Brian’s behalf and hope that our educational leaders will do the right thing for the students entrusted to them, especially for the Fall and beyond…Can you hear it? The school bell is ringing and will not be silenced until the doors reopen for students. Let educational freedom ring for those who are ready to exercise this right on behalf of their special children. They are entitled to an appropriate education according to their individual needs and should have choices in accomplishing this aim. It is the right thing to do- anything less, is unacceptable.

On a final, more upbeat note, a very Happy Fathers Day to those wonderful Dads, Uncles, Nephews, Brothers, and Friends who mean everything to our children…❤️❤️❤️ You are a blessing and deserve huge accolades for all that you do, every day!

Until next time, thanks for reading! 😊