The Investigators: Parents of special education students anxious about Shelby County’s virtual plan

The Investigators: Parents of special ed students anxious about Shelby County’s virtual plan

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Shelby County School District’s decision to hold all classes online this semester is forcing families to make big adjustments, especially for the thousands of children who are in special education classes.

Their parents are concerned their kids won’t get the support they need in a virtual environment.

Some of those families recently spoke out in a virtual forum, hosted by Memphis Lift.

“Not knowing is the problem,” said one parent. “I have two boys that are on the spectrum. They have autism.”

Approximately 15,000 Shelby County students have special needs that place their education in the hands of the school district’s Exceptional Children and Health Services Department.

Those parents worry their children will be left behind when instruction goes virtual in just a couple of weeks.

“We are in a crisis right now,” said Dr. Kevin Brooks, an educational advocate for Providence AME Church in Midtown. “Parents are uneasy, they’re concerned, they’re afraid, they’re frustrated, they don’t know what to do.”

Brooks said the parents he’s spoken to say they’re not getting the answers they feel like they need to set up their differently-abled children for academic success.

“What kind of accommodations and support are you going to make in the home with parents and provide those necessary supports because you’re not in a school?” Asked Dr. Brooks.

The Exceptional Children and Health Services Department is the Shelby County School District’s largest department.

The Investigators sat down with one of the Department directors Tiffany Luckett.

“What is your response to parents who say they either can’t get in touch with anyone or they feel like they’re not getting the answers they feel they need to make sure their student is prepared for the upcoming school year?” Asked The Investigators.

“There is no reason why a parent can’t voice their concerns and have them heard even now, even prior to school starting,” said Luckett.

Exceptional students are assigned I.E.P.s or individual education plans.

Luckett says her staff has been working overtime to speak with parents of students who are supervised by her department.

“We respond to them in a timely manner and we’re there to address their concerns,” said Luckett. “We have IEP meetings at 6:30 in the morning, or at 6:30 at night.”

An IEP may give a student extra resources like speech, occupational or physical therapy. Luckett says those resources will be provided virtually.

Some students require an ancillary - also known as a one-on-one - to help them physically turn pages of a book or write a paper. Those services too will be provided virtually.

“The one-on-ones will not go away. They will still maintain that child’s schedule throughout the day and will be able to provide additional support with the case manager,” said Luckett.

“But not in person,” asked The Investigators.

“Not in person. Dr. Ray said we are going full virtual so we have adjusted to that model,” said Luckett.

“Is having an ancillary not in school or at home still within the confines of the law,” asked The Investigators.

“Yes, absolutely,” said Luckett.

Shelby County Schools said it will continue to explore ways to safely engage with students who have disabilities and directed The Investigators to its Frequently Asked Questions.

There, the district lays out plans for teletherapy, individualized instruction and support resources.

Dr. Brooks said the answers SCS has provided are still too vague.

“I need to know more specifically, I need you drill down because these are not just numbers, these are children,” he said.

During our interview with Luckett, she encouraged parents to reach out directly to the Exceptional Student directors for answers to their questions.

When we asked for that contact information, we were given the general Shelby County Schools number: 901-416-5300.

We called the number and parents of exceptional students should press 4.

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