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Leander ISD special education services shift plans as students with disabilities struggle during school closures

There's a group of students who may need more attention during school closures during the coronavirus pandemic.

AUSTIN, Texas — Leander ISD's special programs and services said they took everything they knew about teaching education and were forced to redesign it because of the coronavirus pandemic. LISD representatives said they're working their hardest to make sure students with disabilities don't fall behind.  

"With special needs children, they really thrive off a schedule," said Tabitha Fry, who has a LISD third-grader with special needs named Brady Fry. 

Brady Fry has developmental delays, he's visually impaired, and considered non-verbal with physical disabilities. 

"Just with that list alone you can probably get an idea of the challenges that we face doing these lessons virtually versus in person," said Tabitha Fry. "Just with the visual impairment, it's a challenge to get him to sit in front of a screen and stay engaged without someone there one on one."

"The biggest struggle is you would typically be right in front of a student. It's very difficult to meet the needs, the level of modeling and support and two-way communication, that is required to support our students effectively," said Kimberly Waltmon, Leander ISD executive director of special programs and services. 

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Waltmon said staff members have spent countless hours making individualized lesson plans for each special needs student. Tabitha Fry said she gets Brady Fry's schedule on Mondays. 

"Physical therapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, vision impairment teacher, they're all on board. So, when I receive that lesson plan, there's something from each of them," said Tabitha Fry.

Waltmon said they're monitoring students closely, making sure they're able to move on to the next grade. 

"We are collecting that data and work samples, communication with families, the videos that are sent back, the zoom conversations that are happening and tracking that progress," said Waltmon, "We miss our students, we miss being right in front of them to help support but, you know, we have had to take the system and redesign it in a very short period of time.

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Brady is still progressing, but probably not at the same rate as he would in a classroom. Regardless, she said his family is still learning as they go. 

"I'm learning different ways to interact with him," said Tabitha Fry. "For us, progress and moving forward is: Is he better today than he was yesterday? Where is he right now? What do we need to do to move forward for the following school year? I don't have big concerns about him not being ready. I feel like Leander ISD as a whole has been very supportive."

"Our teachers are challenged to use resources that the students are familiar with in the classroom. In secondary, a lot of our staff are communicating and using activities through google classrooms. In elementary, SeeSaw is a resource we're using quite a bit," said Waltmon, "It's where a teacher can send a video or post a question and students can record their response back. We're also using Flipgrid so we can see progress and we can see the students and students can see us."

Waltmon said they're also created a parent hub full of resources. She said there are resources for mental health, but there's also a specific tab for special programs based on student needs. 

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