Parents of students with disabilities say online learning 'just won't work' for their needs

Parents of children living with disabilities tell FOX5's Alex Whittler they feel a left out of the conversation about how to best educate students during the pandemic.

"We respect the school system's decision. We just want to find a resolution that works on all sides," Michael Smith said.

His 4-year-old daughter, Jennica, has Down syndrome and attends a Henry County Public School.

Smith says he recognizes there is no perfect solution to learning while social distancing. However, as schools turn away from traditional, in-person learning to stop the spread of the coronavirus, he says, specials needs students are missing out on valuable resources such as speech therapy or counseling.

"They’re extremely important in the development of a delayed child," Smith said.

In Jennica’s case, Smith says, an individualized education program – or IEP-- is necessary.

"Something at 4 years old, you’d think a child would be able to speak at least a sentence, my child is delayed in that aspect," he said.

Smith says it’s especially hard to keep Jennica focused during therapy as is.

Virtual sessions are even more difficult.

As of right now, Henry County Schools will start the year online, and once it’s safe to reopen campus, families will have the option to continue virtual learning or go back to in-person classes.

Smith says special needs students should be an exception.

"Typically, my daughter was supposed to attend school five days a week. What if she went to school one or two days a week?" Smith said.

School starts in less than a month and Smith says leaders need to act fast and offer meetings to hear directly from parents of special needs students.