Updated August 12, 2020 - 3:33 pm
A small group of Clark County School District parents protested outside the district’s administration building on Wednesday morning, saying that the plans to reopen schools with distance learning don’t adequately support students with special needs.
All CCSD students will attend school via distance learning for at least the first semester, with the School Board receiving regular updates on when it might be safe to reopen. But parents of students in special education have pleaded for another option, like small-group settings, citing concerns that students with autism or learning disabilities will struggle to learn on a computer.
Questions about how those students will access therapies or receive the full amount of instructional minutes as outlined in their Individual Educational Plans, or IEPs — a document mandated by federal special education law — have thus far fallen on deaf ears, parent and organizer Anna Binder said.
“We feel shut out of those conversations,” she said.
Parent and advocate Diana Battista said she’s concerned that families will be pressured to accept any kind of service from the district, even if it’s not ultimately in line with a free and appropriate public education that all students are guaranteed. She said the ideal solutions will probably vary from student to student but that the district must have those conversations with families.
“They’re talking about doing what’s reasonable, which comes across to me as what’s convenient for the district, not what’s best for the students,” Battista said.
Battista said she believes the district will face a spate of lawsuits from special education families who see a negative impact to their children’s education after this fall. She added that her own child hasn’t received the full services he’s entitled to under a legal settlement with the district — a practice known as compensatory education.
Parent Esther Johnson added that there are also compounding factors that make distance learning a challenge for families. Single parents, working parents and families living in poverty may be facing child care woes, or struggles to put food on the table, leaving them with less time to advocate for their kids’ special education services.
Superintendent Jesus Jara said in a town hall event Tuesday that the district had learned from its summer school special education program and that services like speech therapy will be provided virtually during the fall semester.
On a call with reporters on Wednesday, Monica Cortez, CCSD’s interim assistant superintendent of the Student Services Division, also said there is no blanket directive to reduce instructional minutes outlined in IEPs. Rather, decisions about how to devote minutes to different kinds of instruction will be made according to individual student needs.
Students who require one-to-one aides will still be provided those services via distance learning, Cortez added.
Past board meetings saw discussion of an idea to bring special education classes back to schools full time in the larger classrooms left vacant by general education students.
But that will not be moving forward immediately. Cortez said Wednesday that the district must operate under the plan approved by the School Board, which calls for full distance learning.