Dear Dr. Carol Kelley and members of the District 97 Board of Education:
I am the mother of two District 97 students, one of whom has an IEP. In the special board meeting on July 23, Dr. Kelley repeatedly insisted we parents were not “teaching” our students during remote learning but merely “supervising” them. I am giving her the benefit of the doubt that she meant to defend D97 teachers’ hard work. However, it was still hard to hear.
That’s because my son needs a one-on-one instructional aide to access the curriculum. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, I served as his one-on-one aide, modifying his work, giving mini-lessons, reading alternate pages aloud, creating word banks, handling meltdowns, implementing sensory breaks, sometimes logging him onto multiple Zoom meetings a day, and — because his communication ability, particularly through video, is limited — sitting with him through all of those Zoom meetings to help him engage.
I am also a high school teacher and have a daughter, who while not as in need as my son, requires 1-2 hours of direct instruction and executive-functioning guidance each school day in order to access the curriculum. I was teaching both my 120 high school students and my children from 5 a.m. to sometimes 7 or 8 p.m. each evening in the spring.
I was not supervising. I was teaching.
My children had incredible classroom teachers who were doing all they could, but the nature of my children’s learning needs are such that they need work modified on the fly, they need prompts, they need visual supports, they need in-person instruction. I am giving it. And I will continue to do so, and should, as our community’s health right now outweighs my children’s learning needs.
However, at the very least, our superintendent could have the courage, empathy, and understanding to acknowledge this is happening in many homes, not just those of the 900 or so students with IEPs. Students who need the most support and resources when we are in school still need it and parents, many working full time and some with multiple children with special needs, are doing that work right now.
Please see us and acknowledge the hard work we are doing. Please actually call a thing a thing. While I agree with the decision to go fully remote for the first trimester in the interest of safety, I beg you to not only acknowledge our struggle, but to take concrete steps to make remote learning more effective for our students.
I have outlined a few here and was part of the committee that made a series of recommendations to Dr. Kelley and the board on how to best implement remote learning for children with IEPs. Related service providers must administer therapies through a video conferencing platform with an understanding that some families may refuse. Many students did not receive the therapies in their IEPs (speech, physical and occupational therapy, and social work) in the spring, but instead got a weekly mass email with suggested activities (for their parents to implement.) Some did receive therapies. It was completely at the whim of the provider your student had.
Students with a on-on-one teaching aide as an accommodation in their IEP should have homebound services from their aide to facilitate their instruction. I understand there are legal hurdles to this, but having been a past homebound teacher myself, I also know they are not unprecedented and that we are living in an unprecedented time.
We must overcome these hurdles and do the best by our students. We need a district-wide modified math curriculum at each grade level, a version with visual supports, links to materials, reduced problems. During spring remote learning, I was offended when I learned modified materials were being sent to every student in gifted and talented (GTD) math, when many special education students were not getting much-needed modified materials. That is patently offensive to our equity mission.
Please give these and the suggestions outlined in the Special Education Parent and Faculty Committee Guidance full consideration. Remote learning planning in the spring seemed based on the needs of students without special needs. I implore you to consider our students’ needs more fully in the next round of planning.
However, as Dr. Kelley could not answer a board member’s question about how a remote option looks for students with IEPs, I am anxious our students’ needs may be glossed over again.
As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the inequities that necessitated its passage are as present as ever during this pandemic in unequal access to education.
is an Oak Park resident and a District 97 parent.