By Susana Jurado
In recent years, the quality of special education has been declining considerably. Overwhelmingly underfunded programs have significantly impacted special education among students with mental disabilities in California’s inner-city public school systems.
Special needs students are slipping through the cracks during COVID-19 as they are neglected the necessary therapies and treatments they need to help better improve their learning abilities and skills. Some examples of these include occupational therapy and physical therapy, two critical factors in giving students much-needed assistance in their learning journey.
In a government investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), investigators looked into the management of the transition to remote distance learning plans from 15 school districts with high percentages of students with disabilities.
“The rapid shift to distance learning in spring 2020, after nearly all U.S. school buildings were closed to prevent the spread of the virus, laid bare both the logistical and instructional challenges of educating students via distance learning, particularly certain subgroups of students with additional needs, such as English learners and students with disabilities,” stated Jacqueline M. Nowicki, director of education, workforce and income security issues at the GAO.
These challenges left complications across a variety of special education services during the pandemic. Keeping both instructors and students safe during this difficult time has sadly deprived students of the vital care they need.
“Delivering related services––such as occupational therapy, physical therapy or speech therapy––for students with complex needs was particularly difficult to do remotely,” GAO noted.
To make matters worse, wealth disparity gaps are widening––especially among California public schools serving students who live below the poverty line.
The Adequacy and Fairness of State School Finance Systems report made by Baker, DiCarlo and Weber, while officially published in 2019, outlines funding problems across the board.
Following data from the 2015-2016 school year, the report concluded the fundamental premise that states were not spending enough money for students living in poverty to meet states’ academic standards compared to the spending of funds distributed among the middle class and wealthier students.
The highlighted primary issues were the lack of qualified teachers, stable learning environments and various services that fit all their learning and improvement needs. A common problem in overpopulated schools with poverty-stricken students was teachers with almost nonexistent experience who lacked the instructional skills to help those with special needs.
The qualifications one must have should be held accountable to teach the proper educational lessons these students deserve.
As someone with a mentally challenged sister diagnosed in the autistic spectrum, I found that education for her was a frustrating and grueling process.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Quality education should be a basic fundamental right with easy access; however, this has not been the case.
Right now, the pandemic cases are at an all-time high, and the transition to remote learning is slowly integrating into each American household. Can we say the school systems are giving each child the quality education they deserve?
Creating inclusion programs for teachers to personally be with special needs students throughout the day, the Individuals and Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has revolutionized mental health disability programs inside schools.
IDEA has broadly improved the accessibility of education for students with disabilities, emphasizing its main focus on a multi-faceted number of services, support and tools that give each student equal opportunities in education as others and effective strides in their learning overall.
Yet, due to its underfunded programs, resources provided in each school are limited and numbered. The allocation of funds varies across each school, making it difficult to track if each student with disabilities is listened to and cared for.
According to an article in Forbes magazine, “Federal funds were supposed to cover 40% of the cost of special education in schools, but it has never come close. In 2017 federal funds only covered 14.6% of the cost.”
Understaffed and underpaid with meager experience, teachers and parents struggle with distrust against a system that promises hope for the child’s future. Each teacher’s workload is excessive and time-consuming as they have many students and schools under their charge and to work with all at once.
There is no personal experience, but instead, each of these students is just a number in a system that promises quality over quantity.
The management of each student getting the one on one quality care and attention they deserve is inconsistent. Teachers are difficult to reach due to their long hours working with many students at once––falling short of creating an environment that gives students much needed success.
Detailed and immersive data collection and transparency are crucial in improving these issues. The public must be aware of how well each school performs its “goals” in creating curriculums and focusing their lesson plans on students with disabilities.
Investment in supporting the very same teachers and staff by extending and refining their training to fit each child’s needs better is another way to keep students with disabilities on the right track.
Parents also play a massive role in the expectation of what the child’s education will look like. This includes parents putting in the time and effort to fight for their child’s education.
However, the means and ability to advocate for better education is especially difficult for any parent who lives within the poverty line and struggles to keep food on the table. To top it all off, they must also find the time to get involved in their child’s education.
School systems must work above and beyond to improve each child’s progress, but the bare minimum has been provided for special education students thus far.
Let’s do our best to get informed and be aware of where our taxpayer money is actually going. Let’s do more for special needs students across the spectrum and advocate quality education for all.
Susana Jurado is a 5th-year Communications major at UC Davis from Los Angeles. She is one of the Opinion Editors for the Davis Vanguard at UC Davis.
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