COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Some parents of special needs children in Richland County say their kids are falling behind because they need face to face interaction inside a classroom. Richland One and Two remain completely virtual, but these parents are asking for an in-person option for their children.
David Taylor’s 15-year-old daughter Lily is a student at Blythewood Middle School in Richland Two. Lily has visual impairment, cognitive delay, physical limitations, and a speech disorder. Taylor says his family quickly learned in the spring that virtual learning would not be effective. “If she sees her iPad, she may kind of look at it, but she may start focusing on taking the case off rather than engaging with what’s happening on the screen,” explained Taylor. “That Chromebook or iPad has become the barrier to her learning.”
Taylor and his wife have three other children who have had success with virtual learning. “They have provided this window for learning. It’s a plan B, but it works,” he noted. “I’m telling you when I see my daughter struggle I question, is there a belief she can learn there because we still haven’t heard anything. We still don’t know what the plan is, and there seems to be no end in sight.”
Scott and Virginia Wells' 7-year-old son is also struggling with virtual learning. Mason is a first-grader at A.C. Moore Elementary in Richland One. “We know he’s fallen behind. It’s not even being worried, it’s a matter of how far has he fallen behind at this point,” explained Virginia. She’s had to put her job on hold to stay home and supervise Mason. “We’re having meltdowns several times a day. I’m not trained to be a teacher. I get just as frustrated as he does,” she said. “I don’t always understand how to redirect him without upsetting him.”
Richland Two Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis says his district is working on a pilot program to bring back students who need certain therapies. He says the plan is to then expand that to other students in need during Phase One. “Since the very beginning of this issue, I said there were two groups of students I was most concerned about: our special education students and our younger learners,” said Dr. Davis.
Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon says he’s still discussing whether to resume in-person learning for special needs children sooner than the rest of the district. “We are concerned, and we want the best for all of our students,” he explained.
For now, both districts will remain completely online, and special needs students, like Lily and Mason, will have to do their best to keep up.
The Federal Individuals with Disabilities Act requires schools to ensure special needs students have access to a free and appropriate public education. These families say they do not feel that is being met because their children are struggling to learn online.
On September 2nd, the Beaufort County school district voted to bring back special education students for face to face learning starting September 14th, but the rest of the district will remain virtual. These Richland County families say they are hopeful their districts will consider doing the same soon.
Richland One and Two leaders are expected to meet with the Department of Education early next week to discuss the possibility of offering a face to face option.