Special needs education getting special attention during quarantine

Lawrence County Special Needs students salute the flag during the National Anthem at a special needs softball game last summer.

A lot of focus has been given to education during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine, and rightfully so. Students have been out of school since mid March and now, along with teachers, are having to navigate the terrain of online learning.

Online learning can be difficult for all students, but even more so for special needs students.

Lawrence County has been renowned for having a top notch special needs program, but those teachers are being put to the ultimate test as they have begun to try and utilize online learning for a group of students that desire the face to face contact.

Donna Flannagin is head of the Special Needs program in Lawrence County and when asked Monday afternoon, she delivered rave reviews for how her teachers have responded.

"I feel like things have been going wonderful. Our special needs students have really gone above and beyond," Flannagin said. "Obviously this situation is nowhere near perfect, but given the circumstances, I believe we've made the best we can out of what we've been given."

Educators have been forced to be extra creative during these strange times as they have been forced to come up with new and dynamic ways to still teach. Flannagin says that the special needs teachers already have a leg up in this department.

"Special needs teachers are already very creative educators anyways. We have to really think outside of the box," she said. "Now it's just been taken to a whole new level of how to meet the needs that kids have."

Online learning can be difficult for some special needs students, as they don't learn in the same ways as a regular student. The face to face one on one contact is important to them. Suddenly that has been taken away.

"Our teachers have called our students and done everything they can to keep up that contact. But at the same time, there's nothing we can do to replace that one on one contact," said Flannagin. "But we also understand that this is a serious issue, and a lot of our students health can be affected. So while it is frustrating, we know that what we're doing is important to keep our kids safe."

With schools being canceled, that means that big events such as Special Olympics and Special Needs Prom have been postponed indefinitely. These are unique events that the kids look forward to for 364 out of the 365 days of the year. It's heartbreaking for them to have that taken away from them.

"Everytime I talk to one the first thing they ask me is when are we going to do Special Olympics. They understand that things are different right now, but they don't understand why," Flannagin said. "Unfortunately, right now we're just in limbo until we get some kind of guidance from the State Department. Would we like to still be able to do these events at some point? Yes, but right now there's just no way to say for certain one way or the other."

So for the time being, the special needs students are going to remain in high spirits and patiently wait for the day they can brighten up hallways with their smiles again.

"They are kids just like anyone else. They're enjoying the extra summer time they're getting," said Flannagin. "I know eventually they'll want to get back to normal just like the rest of us, but these kids are resilient. I've always said if adults were as resilient then we wouldn't have near the amount of problems we have."

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