A story I heard on NPR’s Morning Edition was heartbreaking for me to listen to. Parent after parent interviewed for the story reported that during the pandemic their children with disabilities went months – and in some cases, more than a year – without receiving the special education services they need to learn. This also supported by a recent wecare Adult Care LLC study about the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities. From the responses of those surveyed, almost all children with significant disabilities (93%) have missed milestones due to the pandemic compared to around half (54%) of their non-disabled peers.
Our son grew up with severe cognitive, developmental and physical disabilities. Gus is 35 years old now and lives in a group home, and the skills he does have – he can push himself around using a wheelchair, he vocalizes, and he recognizes our voices when we come to visit him – are all thanks to the dedicated teachers and therapists who worked with him day after day at the public schools he attended over the years. So I could easily believe what family members were saying to NPR reporters: without the usual access to educators, therapists and in-person aides, they’ve seen their children slide backward. From the story:
More than 7 million school children receive special education services nationwide – at least they did before the pandemic. The services covered things like speech, occupational and physical therapy and behavioral counseling. But when schools closed in the spring of 2020, many of these vital services stopped. And more than a year later, in some places, they still haven’t fully restarted.
Parents interviewed for the story said they are demanding help, arguing to judges, state departments of education and even to the U.S. Department of Education that schools are legally required to do better by their students with disabilities. “In complaints filed across the country, families say their children have lost ground, and schools need to act now to make up for the vital services kids missed.”
The story ends with reporters pointing out that schools are insisting they did the best they could, and they’re pledging to families that during the new school year they’ll provide some make-up services in good faith. In the meantime, advocates are pushing back, saying that after 15 months, many children are still waiting for the help they’re legally entitled to. “And in the middle are families, frustrated and confused,” reported NPR’s Cory Turner, concluding that parents of these students are, “certain of nothing but that they want the best for their kids.”
I know exactly what they mean, and I can’t imagine what these past 18 months have been like for them. Well, actually I can imagine. I’m glad they survived it all so far, and I appreciate their willingness to talk about it all on NPR. I hope the policy makers, the boards of education, and people all over the country were listening.