My daughter has had success in school because of her individualized education plan (IEP), a legal document that guarantees each child with a disability a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. IEPs ensure different kinds of support depending on a student’s needs, and for my daughter, it means that she has an in-class aide who helps her stay focused and guides her through instructions and assignments. Because she needs more time to complete her work, some of her assignments are shorter than her peers’. The IEP specifies that tools are available to help her visualize math problems and complete reading assignments. In all, the IEP allows my daughter to do her best work and keep up with the quick pace of a third-grade classroom.
Emily Oster: Schools aren’t super-spreaders
My husband and I have an annual meeting with her school to discuss her IEP and make any necessary adjustments. When we met in the spring, we assumed that the school day would be back to normal by the fall, which, of course, is not the case. Although my third grader attends daily Zoom meetings with a teacher who addresses her specific learning goals, other parts of the IEP have been more difficult to fulfill. Classroom aides, for example, are furloughed in our school district. With flexible jobs, my husband and I are able to shift our work schedules to help her with remote schooling, a privilege not all parents have. We do our best to keep her on task and remind her to pay attention to her Zoom meetings, but we are struggling to figure out how to provide the support and environment she needs to show what she knows.
If online education serves anyone at all, it’s kids who are good at multiple-choice questions and standardized tests. The order of tasks that might be intuitive for other children—reading instructions, considering the problem, then thinking through possible answers—is not for my daughter. Whether she understands the concept being tested or not, she gets lost in the satisfaction of random clicking. She is also having a hard time with the independence that online learning demands. Last week my daughter took a math test online. We worked on math all summer, yet she was getting most answers on the test wrong: Watching her type 2 plus 5 equals 5 without intervening was excruciating.
The Zoom meetings are particularly frustrating. The background noise of unmuted meeting participants makes it difficult for my daughter to concentrate. She also can’t contribute to discussions fast enough. Her teacher makes an effort to engage students in conversation, because every child on the call wants to be heard. But before my daughter is able to get her teacher’s attention, the relevant conversation has often passed her by. When she is called on, my child, like many kids with Down syndrome, must work through some significant speech challenges to be understood. She recently shared with her class, “I have Down syndrome!” “You have what?” her teacher asked. “Down syndrome!” Not understanding what she was saying, her teacher offered a generic “Okay! Great!” and moved on. My daughter, thrilled to have shared something about herself, moved on too, yet the opportunity for my daughter’s peers to know the term Down syndrome, to discuss how people with disabilities are a unique and respected part of their community, was lost.