Online classes can be too exhausting. Staring at the screen for hours is not only mentally stressful, but it can cause physical problems. It is difficult for students to be a part of it, especially students with special needs. Such students are unable to cope up with remote learning. Perhaps, this is why they have been called in-person to their schools in Ontario, Canada. Students with special needs were asked to come to classrooms on 11th January 2021, while others continued their online classes. As the lockdown has extended, the students are asked to proceed with online courses till at least 25th January 2021. The government also declared that the students from covid hotspots continue with online classes till 11th February 2021.
Why are the rules different?
The ministry of education has defined ‘children with special needs,’ including children receiving special education programs to meet their unique needs. The Education Act has defined it into five categories: communicative, physical, behavioral, intellectual, and multiple exceptionalities.
This decision has been taken after consulting with experts. Children with special needs need hands-on experience to learn appropriately. Remote learning cannot provide that as staring at a screen will not help them increase their knowledge. Many parents of these children argue that it is not possible to make their children learn anything at home. The supports that are provided in schools are hard to replicate.
The president of the ‘Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital’ pointed out that school is not just a place to learn but to receive necessary health care interventions for kids with special needs. She added that these children need a structured classroom to gain knowledge.
But is everyone happy with the decision?
Most certainly not! It has been a relief for the majority of the parents to send their children to school. However, their feelings are not shared by educators. They feel that it puts them at a higher risk of contracting the virus. Moreover, they think that the government is putting these children at risk as many of them are immunocompromised and prone to getting infected. The educators have raised concern as it is difficult to make children with special needs wear masks. Either they don’t want to wear them or take them off in a couple of minutes.
Ministry spokesperson Caitlin Clark said that they had consulted the chief health officer before taking this decision. According to her, only a small bracket of people has been allowed, and all the safety standards are being maintained. But most educators are disagreeing. They reported that there had been no extra safety measures, and the “schools look the same as it did in December.”
John Bermans, the Union district president of South Ontario, is disagreeing with the government’s decision. He says that he fails to understand why the staff and this particular group of students are asked to come back to school when it is not deemed safe for the others. He is disappointed with the government as it had ten months to put up social supports for parents of special needs children. But the government failed to do so and is compromising the health of these children.
E-learning has never been an option for kids with special needs
Even before the pandemic, back in 2019, Ontario families protested against the mandatory rule that suggested that students have to take ‘four online classes in the academic year 2020-2021’. This decision was taken due to larger class sizes and significant budget cuts in the education sector.
BryanFarhidi, who had done his dissertation based on online learning proceedings at the University of Toronto, suggested that online learning can never be a substitute for schools and will put a lot of people at a disadvantage. The Canadian Digital Learning Association surveyed in 2018. This survey concluded that the significant barriers to online classes are lousy time provided and lack of training for the instructor. It was decided that a Designated Learning Resource Teacher (LRT) will provide additional support to children with special needs when it comes to online classes. However, nothing is concrete as of yet. This confusion is why such children were unable to learn appropriately through online classes and remote learning.
Moreover, parents’ more significant concern as such kids could feel left out and become an easy target for bullying. While the whole class can attend online courses, they will be left behind. It seemed highly unfair on their part.
Is there a solution?
Since the educators are scared for their students’ safety, is there an alternative for online classes for children with special needs?
Schools are not just a place for learning for children with special needs. It is a place where they are exposed to therapies. It is incredibly crucial for them, especially during a pandemic, to get exposed to such treatments. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work therapy, psychological therapy, and physical therapy are provided to such students. Many of them cannot afford it on their own, which is the only way they can get access to it. If the government can find a way for them to gain access to such facilities, apart from just the learning, things can change through online education. However, it is tough to switch to an online format easily.
The parents are in a dilemma on whether or not to send their children to school. On the one hand, they do not want to compromise with their kid’s safety. But at the same time, the pandemic has harmed their mental health, and continuing online learning will worsen the situation. It has caused a massive amount of upheaval. Students have lost skills and suffered degrading mental health. According to Dr. Ripudaman S. Minhas, special education classrooms should be the first to open and last to close.
These self-contained classrooms are usually small, with a capacity of 10 students. But due to the inability to make these students wear masks, things become a tad bit difficult for educators. Right, the ball is in their court to go back to school or not.