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Joy Barlean is frustrated. Her twin boys Luke and Logan have Down syndrome and aren’t getting the special education they need because of schools being closed. Barlean understands the COVID-19 situation, but feels like the Des Moines school district isn’t doing much to compensate for it.

“I’ve asked about trying things like tele-education, and how can we get some support and adapting and modifying the things they are providing,” she said.

The issue is one that’s affecting students all over Iowa. The Parkin family is seeing it with Nolen. He has a rare syndrome that means he’s non-verbal and needs special supports to learn.

“He has a one-on-one associate at school and a special needs teacher and now that’s all gone,” says his dad, Jason.

The Parkins are in the Waukee school district and say they’re just as frustrated as the Barleans. “We just don’t have the expertise that these people do and that’s why we love them and appreciate them so much.”

Both families have IEPs for their boys. “Individualized Education Plans” are standard for kids with special needs and include time with special education teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists and more. The Parkins and Barleans say it’s going to take more than a few links to worksheets to make things right for their students.

“I want to see what’s going to be done to make up for this lost time,” says Parkin, “this is a time for brainstorming and creative ideas. We’re all in this together. Let’s figure this out.”

The Iowa Department of Education released the following statement on the challenges families are facing during this time. 

The disruption in education caused by the spread of COVID-19 has created many challenges, but especially for families of students on individualized education programs (IEPs) since they can’t provide these services in the same manner and to the extent as they did prior to the closing of our brick-and-mortar school buildings.

The Iowa Department of Education acknowledges these challenges and is partnering closely with Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to support districts as they find creative solutions to serve all their students, including those with disabilities, students who are English language learners, students at-risk and students living in poverty.

Reasonable actions in light of available evidence and resources, as well as the needs of particular children, is the governing legal and practical standard for educational programs or activities. We know that schools are committed to serving all students and we expect that they will work hard to find the best possible approaches under these circumstances.

Our guidance to schools, which is accessible on our COVID-19 web page, reflects this expectation.

The Waukee Community School District released this statement on what special education teachers are doing to help students. 

Waukee CSD is committed to supporting our staff and families during this unprecedented time. In addition to our general education teachers and staff, our special education teachers have worked with our students and families to get them learning at home. Our teachers and staff have been working tirelessly adapting in-person instruction to an at-home learning format. We completely understand and recognize the frustrations and uncertainty that comes with this situation. Our teachers have and will continue to provide learning options for all students and continue to be available for help and to provide feedback. The change from In-person to at-home and online learning isn’t what we had hoped the outcome would be, but we will come together and do our best to support our students and families.

Des Moines Public Schools offered these special education resources for distance learning. 

  1. Support to parents for students with disabilities:
  1. Specialized accommodations of opportunities provided to all students.
    • Canvas (online) courses are going out to teachers this week and April 27 to students and families. 
      • In some cases, courses are being created specifically with universal design for learning strategies and therefore will have learning opportunities scaffolded within the course.
      • Each course will either be set up with universal design for learning strategies or will have links provided for scaffolds and accommodations.
      • Special education teachers will preview courses and then offer suggestions for instruction based on individual student’s needs in their weekly conversation with parents. 
      • All canvas courses will either be closed captioned or a sign language interpreter will be visible on the screen. 
    • Printed materials are offered to all students and families.
      • Special education teachers may suggest multiple grade levels of work for parents to pick up based on the individual student’s functioning.  These printed materials are also available online and accessible to parents. 
      • Specialized packets of materials have been developed for students with significant disabilities.  These packets of materials are being mailed to students’ homes. 
  1. Specialized modifications and adaptations of opportunities provided, including devices.
    • All students, including students with disabilities, are ensured access to a device and internet service, either through their family or the district. 
    • Students who are currently using specialized devices to access learning in the typical school environment, have been or will be offered these devices to use at home, including but not limited to devices for hearing, vision and physical support.
    • Materials are provided in Braille for students who need them.