Special education students facing challenges with changes in schooling

From switching from online schooling to in-person schooling to hybrid models — students across the country have experienced disruptions in education. But for those students who rely on routines and predictability, the pandemic has been especially difficult.

“For some folks on the spectrum, any change is painful,” said Emily Vieweg, a single mom in Fargo.

Vieweg’s daughter is in second grade, and she has autism, ADHD and sensory processing issues. Vieweg says she now goes to school two or three days a week and spends the other days learning online at home or at daycare.

“The way her brain is wired is she compartmentalizes a lot, so school is school, home is home, it’s kind of confusing to her autism brain,” Vieweg said. “‘What do you mean I have to do schoolwork at home?’ that doesn’t quite make sense.”

While Vieweg says there have been challenges, she says the school has been helpful and accommodating.

“Is it ideal? No but it’s the best we can do right now,” Vieweg said.

Krisanna Holkup Peterson’s 13-year-old son, Nicolas, also has learning disabilities. Holkup Peterson says what’s often easily communicated in person becomes more difficult through a screen for Nicolas.

“Sometimes I think the directions confused him,” Holkup Peterson said. “They were very confusing,” Nicolas added.

Holkup Peterson teaches special education students at Mandan Public Schools in addition to helping her son with his special education classes.

“I think that the online is hard no matter what if you have a disability or not, but I think that it just has additional challenges,” Holkup Peterson said.

Bismarck Public School’s Special Education Director Danica Nelson recognizes these challenges. She oversees the roughly 1,700 students in the district in special education.

“School — you come to a brick and mortar building, and now school is being moved into school settings, that is another challenge,” Nelson said.

While Nelson says reviews vary from parents about how their child is learning, Nelson says she sees it as an opportunity.

“The really exciting piece about it is that we’ve had the opportunity to see what education can look like in different environments,” Nelson said.

In the 2018-19 school year, 14 percent of public school students aged 3 to 21 received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

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