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Fall education plan must accommodate children with special needs | READER COMMENTARY

Howard County’s decision to adopt a virtual only model for 2020-2021 school year, reported by The Sun must be adjusted to address the special education population (“Howard County schools will be fully online through at least January due to the coronavirus pandemic,” July 16). Our 5-year-old daughter is a nonverbal autistic child who requires a high level of support and intervention. Her current aptitudes foreclose on her ability to benefit from a virtual education model, as she is unable to follow along with the video lessons or online tools offered. She has been provided with extremely limited one-on-one time by special educators, paraprofessionals and related service providers. It was one thing to endure the lack of appropriate education for her during the spring, but quite another to stare at another five months or more of ineffective interventions.

To benefit from educational interventions, special needs children need the one-on-one support and trained interventions they have been able to receive within Howard County school buildings. These interventions could be delivered in one of several ways that have not yet been adequately considered by the Howard County Public School System. These included expanded one-on-one virtual instruction, guiding parents or caregivers; in-person home based services to guide students through lessons; or individualized or small group instructions within HCPSS buildings.

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The Maryland Department of Special Education has recognized the unique needs of the special education population in its action and guidance to school districts. On June 10th, MSDE announced flexibility for districts to offer small group instruction of up to 10 students for special needs students. Moreover, Appendix A of the Maryland Together School Recovery plan, advises districts to “consider individual or small group instruction” when the IEP cannot be implemented remotely.

Howard County has prided itself on its ability to educate the special needs population, rather than sending students to nonpublic schools. However, recognizing how hard it was behaviorally and educationally for our community, Gov. Hogan allowed nonpublic schools to reopen this summer. HCPSS has developed a number of programs, including Multiple Intensive Needs Classrooms, Cedar Lane and the Homewood center to offer services of comparable intensity to nonpublic schools. Indeed, many of the interventions and classrooms are of a small size that could be delivered safely through masking of staff, “pods” and cleaning of buildings. I am sure HCPSS does not want the extreme expense of transferring large numbers of students to nonpublic schools, but yet it has not developed a plan to continue to deliver services on par.

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Andrew Stettner, Fulton

The writer is a board member of the Howard County Autism Society.

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