• 57°

Sarah Stultz: What can be done for students already behind?

Nose for News by Sarah Stultz


I’ve sat on pins and needles the last few weeks as I’ve seen other states across the country announce their plans for school for the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some areas are requiring distance learning, others hybrid learning and others have said they will try to do full-time, in-person learning.

I, quite honestly, am sick to my stomach thinking about it.

I don’t envy the governor and others who are involved in making the decision, as I, myself, struggle with what I would do if I were in their shoes.

As the mother of a special needs 8-year-old child, the last four months have been challenging.

My son hasn’t understood why things are the way they are and why he hasn’t been able to go to school for regular or summer school since March.

A few days ago, it was almost time to get ready for bed, and my son insisted on getting dressed for school, putting on his shoes and socks and getting his bookbag on as if he were preparing to walk outside to catch the bus.

He doesn’t understand why the pool is closed or why when we drive past the splash pad, no one is there.

He doesn’t understand why everyone is wearing face masks — especially the cloth or disposable kind. He’d prefer Captain America, Batman or Ninja Turtles if he’s going to wear a mask — and those types of masks probably wouldn’t pass the requirements for the types of masks people are now required to wear indoors. I’m lucky if I can get him to keep the mask on if we go to a store, no matter how hard I try and how much I encourage him with a trip to the park afterward.

Though my son has not been at school since March, he, thankfully, has still made steady progress academically at home and at his babysitter’s house. We are blessed to have a dedicated caregiver who devotes time each day to these skills.

While he has made progress, I wonder how much greater progress he would have made if he would have been able to have full access to the services he qualifies for through special education.

One area that he has not made progress in is socially. Even though we fit in as many visits to parks and other places for him to interact with children as we could — the social difference between him and the other children his age is widening.

Aside from the academics taught by the trained teachers in our district, I have realized the important role schools play in allowing students to learn by interacting with each other. I have seen firsthand how my son can be positively influenced socially, emotionally and academically by being around other students who have characteristics he is working to acquire. 

When our educational leaders make the decision whether to open schools this fall, to implement a hybrid model or to return to distance learning, I hope they take into consideration all of these factors and particularly how this decision will affect younger learners and students with disabilities.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.