LANSING, Mich. — In-person learning begins on Aug. 30 for students in the Lansing School District, and, while all students will have to adapt to being back in the classroom, experts say the transition for students with disabilities may be more challenging.
Chris Hagler is 10. His favorite thing is his slinky, which kept him occupied during the year and a half since Lansing schools were forced to switch to virtual learning due to the pandemic.
Chris has disabilities and requires round-the-clock attention.
"He has what you call mixed-type cerebral palsy. He is visually impaired, and he suffers from alcohol syndrome that he got from birth,” said Chris’ dad, Brian Hagler.
Chris, a third-grader at Dwight Rich Elementary, has been going to school virtually since March 2020. His dad has been by his side throughout the whole at-home learning experience and said the transition was rocky.
“As you can imagine, someone who is visually impaired does not do well virtually,” Brian Hagler said. “You know he has trouble with his motor skills, so using a computer is really not easy. And he also has challenges working independently.”
Chris eventually got used to virtual learning, but now with the return of in-person learning this fall, he will have to re-adapt to being in the classroom.
“Going back to school in person, I think is a change for everyone, and some students with disabilities don’t do change very well,” said Kris Keranen with Disability Rights Michigan.
“Some students have disabilities that just make transitions hard,” she said. “And, if they don’t have this problem with their disability, they missed a lot instruction, which means they may not be performing at the level they were before they started virtual learning.”
Kerenan said school districts should be doing specific things to make the transition easier.
“They should be reaching out to their parents, to help the parents prepare for returning to school,” Keranen said. “Perhaps meeting with the parents to go over the additional needs that they may need before the Fall.”
Lansing School District officials pointed to their summer school program as an example of how they are helping students with disabilities prepare for in-person learning.
“We had two summer school programs being offered,” said Teri Bernero, an administrator with the district. “We had a screen-to-screen option, so students can continue the virtual school learning that they’ve been doing all year long and then we had and then we also had a face-to-face option for our families.”
Each option provides students with four to five hours of instruction Monday through Thursday. This year, around 1,800 students took advantage of the summer school program.
Officials with the district said a percentage of those students are also in special education and have a disability.
“In our elementary school, we found out about 25 percent of those students enrolled do have ][individualized education plans] on file, and in our secondary education, 20 percent of those students are enrolled in some kind of educational program,” Bernero said.
Chris is one of those and his dad says the summer school program has made a huge difference.
“He goes Mondays and Tuesdays so, he’s easing into the transition and he’s quite happy to be back on the bus with students and teachers,” Brian Hagler said.