Virtual learning presents a different set of problems for students with accommodations


Grant Blakenship

Students with learning disabilities face additional challenges when it comes to online learning.

Virtual learning presents a different set of problems for students with needs-based education assistance.

As the Bibb County School District rolls out its online learning platform for the first 8 weeks of the 2020-2021 school year, some parents are on edge about how the web based format will work for their children.

“I’m scared. You know, my daughter has a lot of issues with her academics and that’s a normal year. What’s gonna happen now?” asked Heather Dudley, the mother of an incoming high school freshman in Macon.

Dudley is talking about her teenaged daughter who, like over 2 thousand other students in the Bibb County School District, has a specialized learning plan with accommodations. It’s called an individualized education program, or IEP for short. The teen struggles with ADHD and anxiety, so virtual learning has been difficult.

“She is not physically capable of keeping track of all these things, she doesn’t have the function for it.”

The Dudley’s are not alone. Catie Brooks’ elementary aged son receives speech therapy through the district, a weekly service that seemingly fell by the wayside during virtual learning.

“I think I ended up getting two speech therapy sessions with the speech therapist from March until May but we didn’t get a whole lot from the school,” said Brooks.

District leaders acknowledge that they faced a few hurdles when unexpectedly being forced to end last school year online.

“We were implementing the IEPs to the greatest extent possible under the circumstance. We had no idea we were going into it,” said Jennifer Donnelly, the executive director for the program for exceptional children with the school district.

Donnelly  says that while the district was forced to be reactive during the beginning of a pandemic, now schools are being proactive moving into the next academic year. A thought seconded by Bibb County schools superintendent, Dr. Curtis Jones.

“Between now and the start of the school, students and parents will be reached out to. IEP’s will be updated and then we will implement,” said Jones.

Jones said this with an emphasis on “we”; district leaders say that right now the best way to ensure your child is getting the education and services needed parents will have to step up, too.

“If parents believe Virtual Learning is not happening, they need to work with us to make it better. So they don’t think the rigors there, they need to talk to the teacher. If that doesn’t work, then have a conference with the principal. If that doesn’t work, then let me know. Until COVID-19, situation gets better. That complaining is not going to help. What we need to do is make the best education experience for our students now,” said Jones.

And while that starts in the classroom, Jones says, “My team developed virtual walk throughs where we’re going to in and assessing and helping teachers and coaching teachers on how to do it even better as we move forward through this process.”

That dedication is also needed at home.

“A good collaboration is going to help everybody and open communication. Obviously the more we communicate, the better we’re going to do,” said Donnelly. “I do think we’ve had a lot of lessons learned and this year will be stronger but again, it’s going to be that partnership that makes that work best.”

For additional ways to contact the school district, click here.