Some metro Atlanta school districts started the school year completely remotely. That’s been hard for some students with special needs. Those students typically get extra services in school that can’t be delivered virtually. Now, some parents want Gov. Brian Kemp to use federal coronavirus relief money to help those students.
The Challenges of Remote Learning
When Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in May, it set aside discretionary funds for governors to use, called the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. Georgia received more than $105 million in GEER funding.
Gov. Kemp announced the first round of GEER allocations last month, which included expanding internet access, mental health services, and workforce training. Some parents hope the next round will include micro-grants for families of up to $2000, depending on students’ needs.
Jennifer Sheran says a micro-grant would help her support her ten-year-old son, who has Down’s Syndrome. He attends school in DeKalb County, which is 100% remote right now.
“[He’s] a very social guy,” Sheran says. “So, he’s always a guy who loves school, and he loves the discipline and the structure of school and exactly what’s expected.”
Virtual learning has been a challenge for him, Sheran says. In school, her son has accommodations that are harder to deliver virtually.
“Things like large print, larger print type, special paper for writing, and more frequent breaks; an ability to get up and move around a little bit more,” Sheran says. “Maybe instead of doing 10 math problems, he’s doing five. He’s working mostly on reading, writing, spelling, and basic math skills.”
When her son is in school, he also has a full-time aide to help him. Sharon takes on that role during the day. She has hired a tutor to help in the evenings.
“It’s hard for kids with Down Syndrome to just learn digitally,” she says. “They’re very visual learners, tactile learners, and so having that one on one when she comes in, and she’s showing the flashcards, and they’re doing fun games with the words and syntax. …He’s so much more engaged, and he gets it much better.”
A micro-grant, she says, would help pay for the tutor and other materials to help Joey.
‘They Really Need…Consistency’
Molly Gareau is in a similar situation. Her 8-year-old daughter was born with hydrocephalus, meaning she had too much fluid in her brain. As a result, she also has other conditions, like epilepsy and developmental delays.
During the first week of online learning, Gareau tried different tactics. She sat beside her daughter trying to help her, but that didn’t work. She had other children she homeschools in the house. She tried letting her work independently, but that didn’t work either.
“I literally was in tears probably that the end of that first week,” Gareau says. “She could not do anything, and it was just a devolvement through the day of realizing she was lost, realizing she couldn’t keep up, tears, frustration, she was on the floor, papers [were] everywhere.”
Gareau’s daughter attends school in Cobb County, where she also has a full-time aide when school is in session. Her aide does join her virtually, but Gareau says fine motor tasks are difficult for her, and she needs more physical help. So, she’s hired someone to help her daughter three days a week. A micro-grant could help her expand that, she says.
“I could maybe have that person here now five days a week and provide that consistency, which these kids really need, of course, underneath their supports, they really need that consistency to learn and to progress,” Gareau says.
The Cobb County School District plans to bring students back in-person Oct. 5. Gareau plans to send her daughter back to school then. When classes resume, Wednesdays each week will still be virtual learning days.
“We could use that grant money to pay that person to be here every Wednesday,” she says. “So there’s that still that consistency, and still that learning taking place and she’s still getting her one-on-one help.”
Other states, like Florida and South Carolina, have used GEER funds to provide scholarships for students, including those with special needs. Gov. Kemp’s office didn’t respond to questions about whether he’s considering micro-grants for families in the next round of GEER funding.