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Learning Curve: Stepping Up For Special Needs, How Districts Hope To Do Better

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — For a lot of families, distance learning is hardly ideal. Though it's especially hard for those with students who need extra help.

A number of parents reached out to CBS13 wondering how children with special needs will be able to handle another round of distance learning.

"He was kind of left to do these assignments without any help," said Ellen Skinner, whose son has autism and ADHD, among other things.

For her son David, school is already a challenge. But now with miles between the classroom and David, it makes matter worse. Skinner said hearing from teachers last spring was stressful.

"'David is missing 12 assignments – he's not done any work and he's now failing the class.' I'd be like - what?" Skinner said.

Other parents such as Heidi Kuehner said last spring she knew schools were in crisis mode, with no help for her non-verbal 11-year-old son Dylan, who has autism.

READ: Learning Curve: Local Districts Talk Improvements After Several Distance Learning Duds

"They didn't have much time to put together a curriculum," Kuehner said. "They did the best job they could, but there were no hands-on resources."

Districts like San Juan Unified say change is coming. Their director of special education, Vanessa Adolphson, said come fall, communication is key.

"Saying, 'hey, how did that lesson go? What can we do differently?'" Adolphson said. "'What supports do you need?'"

They're adding more live instruction and fewer lessons for kids to do on their own.

"We want to be better. We want to come back stronger," Adolphson said. "We have some flaws we need to work on."

Over at Sacramento City Unified, they're doing much of the same and discussing how this particular community — those who use special services in school — may be among the first to bring back to the classroom when it's safe.

"Some of our students receiving special education services," Christine Beata said. "We know those are some of the most vulnerable."

Stockton Unified plans to utilize 'team teaching' with special education and general education teachers as one of their approaches, adjusting lessons according to each students' needs.

These districts said this time around they hope things will be different. That's what Skinner wants, too. She's worried about her son's future, now that he's nearly halfway through high school.

"Once you're out of 12th grade, all this help stops," Skinner said. "I want him to be capable of coming out of high school and get a job."

Students on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) will still receive services they need, like speech therapy. Those sessions are being re-invented to be done over video platforms with practitioners and lessons to try to do solo.

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