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Parents of students with disabilities express worry about districts' remote learning plans

Jay Chohan's 13-year-old daughter, who is deaf, made a list of pros and cons of remote learning.
Courtesy of Jay Chohan
Jay Chohan's 13-year-old daughter, who is deaf, made a list of pros and cons of remote learning.

Parents of children with disabilities in the Puget Sound region say they’re very concerned about the school year to come, as many school districts announce that they’ll begin with remote instruction.

That’s because many parents report that they had rocky experiences with remote learning in the spring and fear that their children will lose ground academically. A recent Seattle Public Schools survey showed that 70 percent of parents and caregivers of students who have individualized education programs (IEPs) for special education services are “concerned” or “extremely concerned” about their learning.

Jay Chohan has a 13-year-old daughter who is deaf. She attends TOPS K-8, which provides education for students who are deaf or hard of hearing in Seattle Public Schools. Chohan said normally his daughter has a sign language interpreter. Because she’s not completely proficient in sign language, she also has an aide in the classroom who transcribes what’s being said so she can see it on her computer.

Chohan said that during remote school, those services were inconsistent or nonexistent and that he’s very frustrated.

“She missed out on a lot, like she never got those transcriber services,” he said. “Number two, she never got a full-time signing interpreter.”

He said Zoom classes also were difficult because the sign language interpretation, when it was provided, lagged the classroom discussion. She reads lips, but that was difficult because many students didn't turn on their cameras.

In an email, the district's chief of student support services, Concepcion Pedroza, said that according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, there is not an expectation during the shift to remote learning that services for students' individualized education programs would be delivered "exactly as the IEP states." But she said that staff worked to provide students with the resources they needed to make progress on their IEP goals. 

Chohan said he's still pushing for the services his daughter needs and has now filed complaints with the state superintendent's office and the federal Department of Justice.


These kinds of experiences make parents apprehensive about the coming school year. Seattle Superintendent Denise Juneau said in a recent briefing with reporters that meeting the needs of vulnerable students is high priority.

“It’s going to be super critical for us to make sure we are following the individual education plans of our special needs students,” she said, adding that there will be some options for in-person instruction for students who receive special education services.

Guidance from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said that as school districts provide general education instruction, they also must “provide students with disabilities with the special education and related services and specially designed instruction supporting a free appropriate public education.”

In March, the U.S. Department of Education said “there may be exceptional circumstances that could affect how a particular service is provided.” But the state superintendent’s office said districts should provide special education services “to the maximum extent possible during the pandemic.”

The Seattle Special Education PTSA surveyed 100 families and found that more than two-thirds said that managing their children’s educational needs with their own work obligations was a struggle. More than half said it was tough to get their children to do “something educational.”


That’s familiar to Ann Huber, who has two grandsons with special needs in public schools in southeast Seattle. Her older grandson has autism spectrum disorder and has had a one-to-one aide to help him at school. She said it was difficult to keep him on task with school during remote learning, and she’s worried about what will happen when he starts high school this fall.

“He’s now needing to find motivation and engagement from people he’s never met,” she said. “It didn’t work well with people who have known him for three years. I’m very apprehensive. I don’t know how this is going to work.”

Huber said she’s not sure her family would pursue in-person instruction in the fall because they’re concerned about virus exposure. She said it also would not totally serve her grandson’s needs because one of the goals of his IEP is to encourage social interaction with other students in general education classes, which would not be possible if they’re learning at home.

Jana Parker is family and community engagement chairperson for Seattle Special Education PTSA. She said families are fighting for equitable education for their children in the pandemic after having already faced difficulties getting the services they need before distance learning began.

“A lot of the things that were already issues during the normal times are now just so much worse,” she said, adding that parents are bearing the burden during remote education. “That’s not OK. It is too much.”

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.