Educators face challenges in delivering support services and addressing new hardships

by Sarah Earle

In the early weeks of remote learning following Gov. Sununu’s executive order to close all K-12 schools, SAU 24 Superintendent Jacqueline Coe sent out a survey to families. Almost 800 responses came back from families in Weare, Henniker and Stoddard, and the majority of respondents expressed high rates of satisfaction with their experiences so far. 

But one data point that troubled Coe was how many parents of students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) said they were worried about how their children’s needs would be met during the school closures. 

“About 32% of those who indicated their child has an IEP [Individualized Education Program] were quite or extremely concerned about IEP needs,” Coe said. 

Like other administrators around the state, Coe is working closely with the district’s special education teams to address these concerns and deliver services as effectively as possible, while also acknowledging the shortcomings inherent in the remote learning model.

It’s one of many ways educators are trying to continue filling gaps and providing critical supports to students during school closures that are now set to continue through the end of the school year.

“They’re doing everything they can for them, but it’s not the same.”

Administrators in some districts say delivery of special education services is going smoothly, while others are concerned about meeting identified needs. 

“There are families with students who have intensive special needs who have received lots of support from the school system, and now they can only receive it remotely,” said Mike Fourner, superintendent of the Bedford School District. “It’s a challenge.”

“That is probably the most difficult thing we’re dealing with,” said William Harbron, superintendent of the Dover School District. 

To help ease the burden, the state Department of Education announced on Wednesday, April 22, that it would redirect $1 million in unspent IDEA funds into grants to support remote delivery of special education services. “While New Hampshire has excelled in this transition to remote instruction, supporting our special education students has been our most difficult challenge,” Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said in a press release. The grants can be used for technology and services for special education. 

While increased funding may help districts keep some students on track, it won’t solve all their problems. How well educators are able to administer IEP services depends largely on the nature of each student’s need. 

In the academic realm, the remote learning model has been working well for at least some students. 

In Dover, paraeducators who assist students with work in the classroom have been signed up with them in their online classes and are providing consistent support, said Dover High School Principal Peter Driscoll.

Services such as speech therapy can be delivered fairly effectively online as well, he said. But other services like physical or occupational therapy are trickier.

“They’re doing everything they can for them, but it’s not the same,” Driscoll said. 

Districts also face privacy issues when trying to deliver group services remotely, since family members may be watching. 

In cases where schools that cannot effectively deliver required services, compensatory services may be offered at a later date, an option some districts are considering. Such decisions hinge on demonstrated progress rather than a strict accounting of hours, Fournier said. 

In the meantime, educators are relying on regular communication to support their special needs students as effectively as they can.

“We’re trying to stay in very close contact with families,” Harbron said.

This is part of an ongoing series about remote learning in New Hampshire. Read more of the series:

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