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School closures mean special ed students may not be getting services they depend on

While most districts are scrambling to increase their online learning options, parents of special needs students said they feel left behind

ST. LOUIS — In most of the St. Louis area, school is out for at least the next month, and for some districts, classes are out for the rest of the school year. That can be especially troubling if you have a child with special needs who may no longer be getting the services they depend on to learn and grow.

When the Warren County R-III School District closed last week, Chris Smith's 16-year-old son was devastated.

"He actually didn't like it and he wanted to go back," said Smith, who asked us not to use his real name to protect his son's privacy. "He's had challenges since he was around 2 years old. He's been diagnosed with autism."

RELATED: St. Louis area school districts extend closures due to stay-at-home order

Now that his son, and about 3,000 other students in the school district, are done with school for the semester, the help Smith's son received to learn has evaporated.

"[The district] said they're going to have enrichment activities sent to us by teachers every week. They will not be taken for grade and all grades on a transcript will appear as pass/fail. So an 'A' is a 'D' and a 'D' is an 'A'."

Warren County school superintendent Gregg Klinginsmith told the I-Team families he's spoken with are more worried right now about making ends meet than their child's educational experience. Klinginsmith said many of the families in his district are working class, and some may not have reliable internet access.

"I think that kind of leaves them out in the cold. There should be a better way," said Smith.

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The I-Team found the state of Missouri isn't requiring schools to make up time lost to the pandemic. They're also not providing specific guidelines on what schools need to offer students right now.

The Missouri Department of Education does state on its website, "Student work completed during the mandated statewide school closure must not negatively impact a student’s grades or otherwise impact a student’s academic standing.”

In Illinois, the mandated school closures put everything on hold. The mandatory closure days are considered “Act of God” non-instructional days, so schools aren’t required to provide e-learning or continuity of education plans.

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5 On Your Side looked at what other Missouri school districts are doing. Here's what we found:

St Louis Public Schools recently distributed learning packets to students, but so far there are no online classes.

Fox C-6 (the largest school district in Jefferson County) is doing something similar to Warren County. They're sending home practice activities that will not be graded.

Francis Howell School District will distribute instruction packets on March 30 with details about how teachers will use e-learning platforms.

In the Rockwood School District, the district's social workers, speech/language pathologists and therapists have assembled activities that parents can do at home to help children maintain skills.

A Parkway School District spokesperson said the use of e-learning is different for each grade level and that they may be setting online office hours to answer questions from students or parents.

RELATED: 2 Saint Louis Public Schools employees test positive for coronavirus

Troy R-III (largest school district in Lincoln County) instructors met this week to figure out how to make an e-learning plan, and the district stated parents would be receiving information through Canvas or by email on Tuesday. “No new learning will be introduced.” This will be practice of skills they already learned. It looks like, otherwise, they’ve mostly been posting suggested activities on their Facebook page every day.

Ft. Zumwalt (largest school district in St. Charles County) said, “The Special Services Department is working with Curriculum & Instruction to have supplemental tools and resources in place beginning March 23. The Special Services Department has organized resources by the categories of service a student might receive through their IEP. Please check back for updates. We will continue to add resources as they become available.”

Washington (largest school district in Franklin County) has activated its 'Alternative Methods of Instruction' tools and is leaving it up to teachers about what to offer. They expect that the AMI schedule would take about as much time as normal school hours. The state passed an Alternative Methods of Instruction statute that would have had schools submit an AMI plan before the school year starts, but it doesn’t go into effect until the 2020-21 school year.

A local special needs teacher who spoke with the I-Team said she is worried about her students regressing. She said the best thing parents can do is create structure and make kids feel safe while the pandemic plays out.

"I don't want him to remember this time as a very difficult time. I want him to learn," said Smith.

If you are looking for learning resources online, we compiled the following list of options:

32 totally free educational resources for kids stuck at home | From USA Today

Free educational resources for kids stuck at home during COVID-19 | From KSN

Activities and online resources for homebound kids: A coronavirus guide | from Live Science

Watch a Broadway musical and play online for free by clicking here. 

Take a virtual field trip with your kiddos by clicking here.

Social Story to help with understanding

Article for parents from The Autism Helper. It is a great blog for parents and teachers of special needs students, not just students with autism.

Ways to incorporate related services at home

Peachie Speechie is a YouTube channel created by a Speech and Language Pathologist to help with letter sounds.

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