Since Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was last reauthorized in 2004, technology advancements have exploded the opportunities for students with disabilities to receive their instruction on line. Before parents leap into any virtual learning setting, it is essential to research any opportunity.
Some of the questions for students with disabilities which should be asked of any virtual learning situation include:
• How does the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team function?
• How does the IEP team determine Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and free appropriate public education (FAPE)?
• How are the students evaluated?
• Who monitors progress?
• Who provides the special education services?
• Who evaluates the providers of special education services?
• What about related services?
• Who pays for the technology?
• What is the role of the parents?
• What training is provided for the parents and the student in order to access the learning?
• What are the educational opportunities across state lines?
• How flexible is the virtual curriculum in order to meet the student’s needs?
Depending on the student’s needs, some do better in this learning climate than others. Some students with disabilities who may benefit more than others include:
• Students with severe health issues which require a home instruction setting
• Students with extreme behavior issues which require a home instruction setting
• Students in rural and frontier areas of the country with limited access to appropriate special education services
At an earlier forum of the National Directors of Special Education multiple experts including special education directors, virtual school directors, parents of students in virtual special education, and researchers discussed the benefits of online learning. Topics included ongoing virtual feedback between student and teacher, a self-paced curriculum, the ability to create online portfolios, the lack of peer distractions and conflict, and the potential for cost-cutting as benefits of serving students with special needs virtually.
Some tips from this conference for those considering virtual learning opportunities include:
1. Parents are the key to their child’s success. Before enrolling in a virtual program, parents of special education students should be aware that they will be taking a much more active role in their child's education. Researching programs and talking with each school beforehand can help both students and parents’ transition into a cyber-school environment more easily.
2. These virtual opportunities must be in reach for all students. Virtual schools should make sure that the digital curriculum they choose and the activities that students complete are accessible for all students. They are responsible for providing any assistive technology necessary to accommodate students with special needs.
3. These virtual opportunities must provide a team effort. Parents, virtual general education teachers, and virtual special education teachers must be prepared to work together to evaluate and implement a student's individualized education program, or IEP.
4. Each virtual opportunity must recognize that each student is different and has individualized needs. Although some students with special needs may thrive in an online-leaning environment, it's important to continue to evaluate how each student is doing to determine whether virtual learning is the best choice for that student.