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story.lead_photo.caption Sherry Stewart, special education director, shares an update Tuesday on special education programming during the pandemic at the monthly Rogers School Board meeting. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Mary Jordan)

ROGERS -- Special education challenges have been heightened during the pandemic as teachers work to meet the needs of district students, administrators say.

Sherry Stewart, special education director, on Tuesday updated the School Board on how district staff is working to meet the education needs of students with disabilities during the pandemic.

"The pandemic has just brought a new way of delivering services to all students," Stewart said. "We weren't set up to do things remotely or virtually or in those digital platforms. We were used to working with our students face-to-face in the same room as them."

The district had 1,912 students with disabilities enrolled as of Oct. 9, according to presentation documents.

Nathan Gairhan, board president, said he's impressed with how many special education students the district is serving.

"It's an incredible amount," Gairhan said.

Some 429 students are learning online this school year, including 72 elementary school students, 112 middle school students, 132 high school students and 113 receiving only speech services, according to presentation documents.

The use of personal protective equipment, face shields and masks have made it harder to keep special education students engaged, especially during online learning when communicating can be even more challenging than when it's in-person, Stewart said.

"Probably some of the greatest challenges have come with some of our students with more significant disabilities because much of what we would do with modeling," she said of how teachers engage students by showing them how to perform a skill through step-by-step demonstrations and instruction.

Teachers have always had to remain creative to keep students engaged, Stewart said, noting the pandemic has made that all the more important during distance learning.

"Keeping students engaged is a teacher's job every day," she said. "When you're doing it in a different format, you just have to do things differently to connect."

Stewart used task boxes filled with hands-on activities that were created for virtual students by occupational therapy teachers to help with special education curriculum as an example of how staff members are coming up with creative education solutions during the pandemic.

"We have staff members who are really working hard to engage our kids," Marlin Berry, superintendent, told the board.

Some administrative lessons learned virtually during the pandemic are apt to be maintained in the future, Stewart said, such as providing, receiving and processing paperwork for student program enrollment and conducting parent conferences.

"Sometimes it's hard to be places or to schedule time, so we're continuing to do many of our conferences via Zoom or using Google Meet so that you can get a bunch of people together and still social distance," she said. "I think the virtual conferences will still be something that will be good for our parents and good for our staff here in Rogers."

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Nathan Gairhan, Rogers School Board president, was appointed to represent the School District on Dec. 9 at the Arkansas School Boards Association Delegate Assembly.

Source: Rogers Public Schools

Mary Jordan can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAMaryJ.

Print Headline: Virus poses challenges to special education

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