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Special education concerns | Bell County schools explain approach for this fall

6 News spoke to two local school districts about parent concerns over special education for the 2020/2021 school year.

BELL COUNTY, Texas — School districts face plenty of challenges this school year, but one of the biggest concerns for many parents centers around special education. Some parents, like Bonnie Hancock in Rogers, said there is just no way around having their child return to the classroom for the special attention and social interaction they need while learning. 

"My daughter that's autistic, she very much pulls energy from kids her age and younger. It makes it to where she is able to learn better," Hancock said "When they were pulled out for those last few months of school she did not do as well. She wanted to give up, and this was a child that was 'Straight A.'"   

At the same time, many parents are worried that their child will not do well if their school district expects constant masking or other safety policies the student finds frustrating or uncomfortable. 

6 News spoke to Temple ISD and Belton ISD about the issues as both districts plan their fall curriculum. Special education directors from both districts said they know many special education students need the in-school environment to learn best, but they are ready to assist families with whatever learning option is best for their situation. 

"Those kids have been identified as students needing specially designed instruction that is pretty intense. When you have a student like that, we know already those students are less likely to learn from a device," BISD Executive Director of Special Programs Jennifer Ramirez said. "They need lots of hands-on interaction."

Both Belton ISD and Temple ISD have plans to meet with the family of each student in their special education program to discuss options. Temple ISD said they would have a special committee to mee with any family that selected remote learning to make a plan specifically for that child. Temple ISD Director of Special Education Jennie Mathesen said they may need to have over 400 meetings in total, but they want students to have the best experience possible. 

 "There are some things that are easy to replicate in remote learning. We can put our students in live instruction with those special education teachers, and provide assignments in learning management systems. There are other things that are harder to replicate and we will work based on the individual needs of the child," Mathesen said. 

In both districts, directors said they would revisit any concerns with parents as the year progressed. Ramirez said the school district knows some families will automatically need plans tailored to their situation at the beginning of the year and they would further refine that plan as the year continued. 

"I really want parents to know that we know that don't know what's going on in some ways and they are nervous and worried and we are going to meet the individual needs of every student," Ramirez said. 

Another main concern for parents is the use of masks. Parents worry their child will get agitated after constantly wearing their mask and won't follow school guidelines, which will create an issue later on. Directors said Monday, that's an issue they already expect to see and they won't force a child to do remote learning because they're having trouble getting used to masks right away. 

"We anticipate that there will be students that have difficultly wearing the mask all the time and so we work on adaptations. When is it really necessary for them to have their mask on? Is there a teaching piece that we need to do to help the child understand why it's important to wear the mask?" Mathesen said. 

Mathesen told 6 News students who are deaf or hard of hearing will need to have their teachers wear clear masks so they can work on lip-reading and they will make other accommodations as needed. She said students who have sensory or cognitive issues will still be able to receive in-school instruction as the year progresses. 

In all cases, the directors told 6 News that communication with the parent is the key element in making the school year successful. 

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