With a new school year drawing closer, school districts across the country are weighing difficult decisions about the best way to continue education for their students while keeping them safe and stopping the spread of COVID-19. From remote learning to in-person classes to some hybrid of the two, educators are weighing a variety of solutions in an attempt to balance the benefits of in-person education and safety.
For special education schools and programs, the decision is even more difficult. Students with autism who receive special education services benefit from the structure and socialization that in-person learning provides, as noted in a New York Times article. Many of these benefits have been harder to obtain through remote instruction. The article also described how difficult it can be for parents to manage their children’s needs on their own.
Ashley Bursian, the parent of a 7-year-old child with autism, noticed negative behavior changes in her son when schools went remote. Many of her son’s lessons were hands-on and were difficult to implement virtually, and she hopes that he can go back to school in person to resume the routines and hands-on instruction that he needs. She told a local Michigan news outlet, “I think it’s really important, again, for autistic children to be with the teachers and to have that hand-over-hand and physical presence of helping them learn.”
Those benefits must be weighed against the health threat the COVID-19 poses. Many teachers, students, and parents are worried about the risks of attending schools in person, especially if they are immunocompromised or face other health issues. “Our school doesn’t provide any type of hand sanitizer,” Brandon Hersey, an elementary school teacher in Washington said to Slate. “We have soap and water, but some schools don’t even have sinks.” Some students with autism may not understand the need to wear masks, which help prevent the virus from spreading. Depending on the resources of the school or district, some schools may not have the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to keep both teachers and students safe.
It’s a dilemma that school districts, educators, and families are continuing to consider, looking for solutions that will satisfy the balance between the benefits of in-person learning with the dangers of COVID-19.