Local educators call for safe, in-person services for students with special needs

Posted at 7:38 AM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 11:42:33-04

As our community starts to rebound, families are contemplating how to send their kids safely back to school.

While the school year will start with distance learning across the Central Coast, some educators are pushing for in-person instruction for students with special needs.

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Corona is about to start her senior year in Paso Robles.

"She loves it. She's really easy going and a good student," said her mom Bernadette Corona.

She says she was happy with how Audrey's teachers transitioned to distance learning last spring.

"It's something that no one ever expected to have to do and they did good," she said. "Some of them had classes through Zoom which was kind of cool, that was nice.

They just hope Audrey will be able to return to the classroom before her senior year is over.

"It's a little disappointing. I wish it was a regular, normal school year at school and being able to do all the activities and social interaction but we've got to do what we've got to do," Corona said.

Audrey has autism, one of 13 disabilities that qualify a student for special education in California.

According to Terry Hollen, director of Special Education for Paso Robles Unified School District, Audrey is one of 1,000 students in the district with an individualized education program (IEP).

"[Special needs students] have specific, individualized services that are required by the federal government that we deliver those services to them," Hollen said. "Our superintendent is adamant about making sure we are following all the federal guidelines and serving students with special needs."

Paso Robles Unified serves students with special needs from ages three to 22. Adult students are placed in job programs, many of which have been on hold since March. Elementary through high school-age special needs students are taking classes online.

"Students with special needs will hopefully be able to come in and work in-person with our special educators," Hollen said.

Hollen says his school district is currently examining a waiver process that would grant school districts permission from the state to provide in-person services to students who are most impacted by their disabilities.

"If I have a student that is need of a service like speech or occupational therapy or they need some really intensive instruction in order to access their education and that physically can't be done with this particular student over an online format, then we're looking at if we can figure out a way to bring them in front of the educator or expert to deliver that unique service," he said.

In order to do that, they will need plenty of protective measures.

"Things like face shields, masks, plexiglass barriers, social distancing, small group instruction, individual instruction," said Hollen.

Audrey and her mom say the PPE would be well worth it.

"They have definitely done their best to provide videos and Zoom stuff but to have them in-person, it's a big difference," said Corona.

Paso Robles Unified School District is also considering adding new technologies to help teachers deliver material to students in both general and special education in more dynamic and engaging ways.