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Parents worry KCS re-opening plan doesn’t help special education

Virtual learning difficult for students with special needs, parents say.
Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 11:30 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Knox County Schools sent out more than 70,000 surveys to families before releasing its re-opening plan at a school board meeting Wednesday night. However, some parents of students with special needs say the survey didn’t include any questions about their children.

“[I’m] concerned that we’re trying to reach out and nobody is talking to us. Nobody is asking about our kids. They are by far the most vulnerable population,” Christie Rouse, a Knox County parent, said.

Her son, Payson, is 9-years-old and is going into third grade at Adrian Burnett Elementary School. He also has a rare genetic disorder that causes development delays.

“He struggles with anxiety as is just because of his medical problems. So every year going back to school is a challenge. This year especially because we had such a long break,” Rouse said.

That break is about to be over. Knox County Schools unveiled its reopening plan Wednesday night. It includes safety measures like temperature checks, masks, and sanitation stations. However, Rouse said it does not include enough specifics for students with special education needs like her son.

“Whenever there’s no standard — other than saying ‘they’ll have what they need’. It doesn’t give us any reassurance.”

Jason Myers is the executive director for student supports at Knox County Schools. He was at Wednesday night’s school board meeting and listened to some parents’ concerns about not being heard.

“I definitely heard loud and clear from our families that after the survey was released that they would’ve liked to have seen specific questions around serving students with disabilities,” he said. “Certainly reflection and learning is important for any organization including Knox County Schools.”

He said instead of offering specifics, they will be meeting the needs of each student as an individual.

One concern addressed is if Knox County goes back to virtual learning, what does that mean for students with special needs? Rouse said her son can’t learn through a computer screen. “He doesn’t have the attention span. He’s very social and I really think that’s how he learns best.”

She also questioned what would happen with his therapy sessions and whether they would be online or if they would be held at home.

Myers said the ‘Extended School Year’ program this summer went virtual, giving school officials practice with virtual therapy. Myers added that KCS recently ordered about 300 devices specifically designed for students with special education needs that would be distributed soon.

In the classroom, Myers said KCS worked with Dr. Martha Buchanan at the Knox County Health Department to develop proper safety measures. He said if a student can’t wear a mask, they will consider other alternatives like a plastic shield. He also said they are working to order devices that can sanitize large spaces at once so that students aren’t using equipment back to back.

Rouse said she wants the specifics. “The district has not put out guidelines or baselines as to what that will look like for our kids.”

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