Albemarle County parents advocate for in-person special education learning

Albemarle County parents advocate for in-person special education learning

ALBEMARLE Co., Va. (WVIR) - Some Albemarle County parents with children who are special education students are advocating for in-person classes. This comes as many parents, teachers, and students continue the debate over what a fall return to school looks like.

Jen Prichard decided to write a letter, which has been signed by over 50 Albemarle County Public School parents because her daughter Ruby is a special education student.

“So much of how my daughter learns, for example, is hands-on,” Prichard said. “Having someone actually in front of her doing something, helping her manipulate an object to learn about it... that’s really difficult to do virtually.”

Prichard is a mom of four, and says it has been hard since schools went online.

“[Ruby has] really struggled,” she said. “Not just educationally, but socially, emotionally since schools closed in March.”

That’s why she’s asking for answers from Albemarle County schools.

“Nothing’s even been said about whether or not special education students will have a different plan or will be considered differently.”

Stephanie Hicks has two children in the special education program. She is also the vice-chair of the Special Education Advisory Committee in Albemarle County. She says there are unique benefits to in-person learning within special education.

“Without that, the students can become very agitated, they don’t learn very well, and frankly from a parent’s perspective, we get a little scared,” Hicks said. “What if we do something wrong?”

Hicks signed the letter, and says although she thinks the vast majority of students should be educated virtually, she is “still hoping that we can find a way to do these very small classrooms with our students who require that hands-on education.”

These discussions come at a time when many teachers in central Virginia are advocating for a fully virtual start to the school year.

“I really wanted to advocate for our special ed teachers at the same time that I was advocating for our kids,” Prichard said. “We value them. We appreciate them and we need them. And we need for them to stay healthy.”

Prichard said she recognizes the safest option is virtual learning, but if that option isn’t possible for every student, she says “we cannot let perfect be the enemy of good.”

Another thing Prichard considered is the challenge of finding a proper caregiver for children like Ruby.

“When you have a special needs child, you may or may not be able to find a caregiver who can deal with their needs,” she said. “There may or may not be another option for those parents.”

Hicks said in the meantime, she hopes parents can be informed and brought into conversations about ways to help teachers.

“Our parents need some sort of training and support,” Hicks said. “It can be some virtual lessons for us, some way to help us feel part of the team, and to know how to work with our teachers; how to work with our students.”

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