Les enfants en situation de handicap sont les grands oubliés de la crise du COVID-19. Aux Etats-Unis aussi, ces élèves sont laissés "au bord du chemin", sans aidants (lesquels se retrouvent au chômage) ni accès à distance aux programmes individualisés spécifiquement conçus pour leurs enfants. Par ailleurs, la question du retour à l'école se pose elle aussi, avec la perspective du retard accumulé par les élèves. Face à la crise, certains sont plus préparés que d'autres.
“Schools are struggling to educate 7 million students who receive special education services in the absence of physical classrooms.
Adrienne Stuart’s 5-year-old son, Jack, has never told her “hello.” It’s a milestone she was hoping to reach within the next year.
But in mid-March, his school was closed, at least until May. Now, she’s coming to terms with the fact that she’ll likely have to wait longer to hear from her son.
A vast majority of the nation’s schools ― over 120,000 in all ― have closed in an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus. For students with disabilities, the stakes of these school closures are especially high. These students often rely on a litany of services at school, from speech therapy, to physical therapy, to occupational therapy, that parents simply aren’t trained to do on their own. Parents and educators worry that fragile gains made this year could disappear with so much time off. An eventual transition back to school could prove especially difficult.
“I know a lot of people are, but we are especially reliant on the school system,” says Stuart, who lives in Tacoma, Washington.
Schools have struggled to educate the 7 million students who receive special education services in the absence of physical classrooms. In mid-March, the U.S. Department of Education fueled confusion when it suggested that schools that cut off academic services for all students would not be required to serve students with disabilities. Some schools ended academic services amid concerns they would run afoul of federal law if they could not serve disabled students with the same rigor as everyone else. Later in March, the department clarified schools “should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction” to address equity concerns.
Still, in recent weeks, parents of students with disabilities report receiving only a fraction of the services to which they’re entitled. Schools have canceled meetings to devise or update individualized education programs ― or IEPs, the legal document that outlines necessary services for each disabled student. Classwork isn’t tailored to students’ disabilities. And in some cases, the adults who work most closely with students with disabilities, like paraprofessionals, are losing their jobs, cutting off a crucial line to these kids.
What’s more, within Congress’ recent $2 trillion coronavirus bill is a provision that could allow Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to waive portions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that governs special education and calls for disabled students to get an equal education to their non-disabled peers.
“We’re just feeling rudderless at the moment,” said Stuart, director of public policy at the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council.
Stuart’s son has Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder that impacts a person’s ability to speak, move, eat and breathe. Lately, the school’s speech language pathologist has been teaching him how to use an eye gaze device, a piece of technology that tracks people’s eye movements, eventually allowing them to communicate through a computer screen. Stuart dreams of the day her son will be able to tell her if he’s hungry, if he’s frustrated, if he hurts.
But ever since school closed, she hasn’t received any instructions or supports in this area. Without the help, it will prolong the process. It’s a complicated device ― Stuart feels like she’s utterly unprepared as she tries to direct him.
“That’s a huge void, not being able to get him the support he needs to communicate, it’s devastating,” Stuart said, noting an IEP meeting for her son was canceled with no apparent makeup in sight.