A lot of students are struggling with school this year, says Jackie Wernz, a school attorney at Franczek PC in Chicago.
“Not because they necessarily have a disability, but because this whole system isn’t what we signed up for,” she explains.
It puts a lot of pressure on teachers and administrators when a parent says, “I don’t think my child can do this,” to really be able to drill down and ask: Can the student not access the material because of her disability, or is it something else in this environment that’s preventing her? And is that something also affecting the larger group of students?
Ask these two questions to help dig down on a student’s needs.
1. Would the request change what a student is expected to learn, as opposed to how?
In other words, are we making a change to the standards being used (the what) or trying to help a student access the work (the how)? The difference is between how the student learns with an accommodation and what the student learns with a modification.
Students will still request accommodations, but they are going to be different now. Before, a request for preferential seating to avoid distraction might now be about finding a way where the student can only see the teacher in the Zoom platform. “If a student has trouble paying attention in a classroom because of his classmates, imagine how difficult and challenging now [it will be] on the computer where [the student is] seeing 25 heads and talking to the teacher,” she says.
2. Is this a request that is actually related to the student’s specific disability and situation, or is this a broader issue that may be impacting more than just this student?
Say a parent contacts a teacher and says, “I think my student needs an accommodation or modification. She needs some kind of change, because this isn’t working.” The first step would be to understand the cause of the need, Wernz says.
Is it related to or necessary to the educational environment, or is it something that is a byproduct of online instruction?
Take, for example, a high school student with anxiety. She may not be able to complete her work at a level that is expected, but if you look around, you may also see that all students are less able to complete that high-level work in this environment because of lack of in-person instruction or access to quiet places to work that didn’t exist before, Wernz says. “You have to think about it in a whole new context,” she said. Expectations from the brick-and-mortar classroom don’t directly translate in this remote environment.”
“Make sure that it is actually the disability that is leading to the request and not that there’s just a problem with our online methods,” she adds. “It’s really complicated right now.”
Excerpted from “Accommodations and Modifications Requests in the Age of COVID” in District Administration. Read the full article online for additional recommendations.