Vermont's special education teams share challenges with remote learning

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Students with disabilities have more hurdles to overcome when learning from home, so Vermont's special education teams are working closely with families to tackle the transition.

There are 250 special educators, speech pathologists, and paraeducators in the Burlington School District. Jordan Goodrich is one of them. He, and the others, have been tasked with developing Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, for each of their students.

In total, district teachers have created more than 700 so far, but Goodrich says there's no textbook on how to do it right.

"I don't think anyone really knows what it should look like, and I think that unknown is incredibly difficult for a teacher that wants to give absolutely everything to their students," said Goodrich.

Goodrich says providing that support through a computer screen adds a layer of complexity unlike any other he's experienced teaching his fourth- and fifth-graders.

"I don't expect my students to do much independent work without direct support from myself and my support staff," said Goodrich.

Because of the physical barriers, teachers can't keep an eye on their students during the day. Goodrich is collaborating with parents to help hold their kids accountable, sticking to a schedule so they'll stay on task.

"It's going to count a lot on families' engagement. I think a lot of families are really easing into this process, and I think that's most appropriate. In fact, that's what I've suggested to my families," said Goodrich.

Without face-to-face instruction, Director of Student Support Services Laura Nugent says any obstacles for teachers and students in the classroom are amplified by this situation. Though special educators are trying to align their plans with those for general education, they say they have to consider learning disabilities may put their students slightly behind.

"Often learning in a general ed classroom for a student with a disability can be like walking on a tightrope and knitting at the same time," said Nugent.

Despite the unprecedented challenges, special educators say they're confident good things could come from this change.

"I think it's going to harbor some really unique opportunities for learning, and I think it may actually change education from here on out," said Goodrich.

Next week is school vacation for the Burlington School District, so while students have a few days off, administrators and teachers will be hard at work assessing how the first week of Continuity of Learning went.

Burlington School District Superintendent Yaw Obeng says he anticipates this first week implementing these plans will be bumpy, but educators are doing their best.

"We have a complex district where we have significant special ed -- IEPs -- we have PL learners, we have students who depend on free reduced lunch, not just for food, but also other supports that we connect our community partners with. So those are all pieces that we're continually thinking about in terms of the plan," said Obeng.

Obeng says the Agency of Education approved and provided positive feedback on Burlington's Continuity of Learning Plan.