Children with special needs may go without in-person therapy but education continues online during coronavirus pandemic

Central Florida school districts provide resources to continue Exceptional Student Education online

Parents whose children are enrolled in specialized programs through their schools due to learning or physically disabilities are faced with attempting to fill that gap on their own now that all Florida schools have shifted to online-only learning due to the coronavirus outbreak for the time being.

In Orange County, the school district created a website with resources for exceptional student education parents to help continue their education online.

“This is an unprecedented time in our history, OCPS staff will make every effort to meet student needs given the current conditions. OCPS support services staff will be in communication with parents of students in the near future to discuss potential remote learning," according to the OCPS website.

During the current emergency school closures it may not be possible to provide hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or tactile sign language educational services, according to the district, however, many disability modifications and services may be effectively provided online, including “extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.”

The schools district also provided a list of activities for students that don’t require the internet but will require lots of parent or guardian involvement, such as fine motor skill exercises, math problems and other activities. That full list can be found here.

Most school districts in Central Florida, including Orange and Osceola counties said they are working with individual families to meet their student’s needs.

“Parents of our special education students who feel digital learning will not work for their students have been asked to contact our ESE Department,” a Osceola County Public Schools spokesperson said in an email.

The biggest concern for many parents is trying to adjust to their kids learning online when many parents say children with special needs already require extra care and attention.

Beverly Reid has two daughters enrolled in Orange County schools; her youngest daughter is hearing impaired and has epilepsy.

“We really don’t know what to do, and it’s like we’re going back to school with our kids basically,” Reid said.

Reid told News 6 she is worried that he daughter’s education will suffer without one-on-one help that she says only comes from a classroom environment.

Lakisha Roundtree has five children in Orange County. She said her 14-year-old twins have cerebral palsy.

“Getting them to stay focused Is a concern,” Roundtree said.

Roundtree said she has talked with her twins’ teachers to try and devise a plan to streamline online learning, but still has many concerns.

“Not everyone learns through videos so I don’t know, it’s going to be kind of rough,” Roundtree said.

Her daughter, who is in eighth grade, told News 6 the transition to online learning will be a challenge.

"More difficult because I won’t understand what it’ll be saying anyway," said Madison Roundtree.

In Oscoela County, Superintendent Debra Pace said there’s special equipment to help special needs students if necessary.

"We have devices that we can check out to our special needs students As well, those parents just need to call out our ESE officer directly," said Superintendent Pace.

Orange County leaders say every case is different, but some kids may even get extra time for assignments and they also have a website to assist parents even during this virtual transition.

In Seminole County, the student support services department is working to meet all the needs to continue to service its ESA student population, according to the district.

Computers or tablets will be sent to families if needed, Seminole County Public Schools communication officer Michael Lawrence said.

Student Study Team and IEP meetings will still happen during the emergency closures either online or in person and will be scheduled through the child’s school in advance, Lawrence said.

In Volusia County, the school district put together instructions for families to get all the resources they need to continue ESE online. Those instructions are included in this guide.

About the Authors:

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.