With School Year Set to Begin, There's Concern About Impact on Special Needs Students

Heather Morrison says she is keenly aware of just how important in-person instruction is for students with special needs.

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As students across Massachusetts get ready to return to school -- whether that's remote, in-person or hybrid -- there's an added layer of concern about how the atypical school year will affect special needs students.

Heather Morrison, of Westwood, is a mother of three kids in a school district that’s set to start in a hybrid model next week. She's also the director of administration for the New England Center for Children with Autism, based in Southboro.

“I just feel that we need to provide a full time, in-person education to all of the children in Massachusetts,” Morrison said.

But Morrison says she is keenly aware of just how important in-person instruction is for students with special needs.

“These are the students who are really going to fall behind, by not receiving that in-person care,” she said.

Morrison says she has led NECC’s emergency management team that developed and implemented the strategies used to continue their educational efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She says she applauds most districts for prioritizing in-person instruction for most students on Individualized Education Plans, or IEP’s, but is concerned for students who should be getting additional help who may not with full remote plans.

“I am concerned about regression,” said Morrison, “loss of skills, loss of time, our students, our children’s education is the most important thing.”

Morrison says the uncertainty of switching between learning models adds to the stress for both parents and students.

“I think that that’s going to be a challenge,” said Morrison, “which is why I think the priority of having those kids come back is so important because I don’t know if you’re really going to make it up, you need to do that work now, it’s not something you necessarily can get caught up on.”

Whether going back remote, in-person, or hybrid, the true test of those plans really begins next week, when school resumes for most districts in the Commonwealth.

Parents of children with special needs are worried they won't be able to get the usual amount of support if schools go remote.
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