Parents of students with disabilities struggling while schools are closed

Posted at 6:16 PM, May 01, 2020

With schools closed indefinitely, parents of students with disabilities are forced to use video chat for their education, and area parents are struggling with the change.

Terry Willey, whose 18-year-old son, Michael, is in the Independent Skills program at Paso Robles High School, can be at home and help with the live video classes but he’s finding new challenges, on top of video connection issues, having Michael home all day.

“It’s difficult for my wife and I, and we’re a two-person household who are home,” Willey said. “Keeping him busy through the day is a lot more difficult than it would be if we had a typical, or average, teenager. He gets bored pretty easily. We end up spending a lot of our time trying to coax him into activities.”

For Shannon Myers, a paraeducator in the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, her son and other students in the classes she works with have disabilities and sometimes struggle with classes on a computer screen.

“My son, he just can’t do it. My daughter on the other hand, she has no problem with it. Every child is different,” Myers said. “We have a couple of students that tend to develop behaviors in the class and not want to participate, or hide their faces, something to that effect.”

School districts on the Central Coast are collaborating to find ways to make online learning more seamless. Special education teachers are sending paper packets and educational videos to their students as different ways of instruction.

“We rely a lot on families to be able to help their kids,” said Terry Hollen, Director of Special Education for the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District. “One of the challenges we’re having is getting a student with a disability, or a severe disability, to do the activity like this. You’re going through a computer screen to reach out to families. That’s an obvious barrier.”

But they’re making do with the hand they were dealt.

“The principals, the special education teachers, the general education teachers, they are amazing,” Hollen said. “Everyone, especially parents, are doing the best that they can to make sure the kids get their education.”

Some parts of learning via video chat allow for educational growth.

“My son is forced to get more comfortable talking with people on the computer,” Willey said. “He’s never been real big with computers, so being put in front of the screen is helping him.”

Myers has some words of advice for parents in similar situations.

“To parents who are struggling, I’m struggling, too. Just keep a set routine. If there’s frustration with you or frustration with your child, take a break. Don’t push the agenda.”