Every morning I greet my students with a good morning song and when it says, “It’s a wonderful world and a beautiful day,” I interject “because you are here!” I love seeing my students smile and dance as their cameras turn on each day. However, I constantly worry about the few faces that are not always present, (especially) two of my students for whom virtual learning is simply not working. One logs on but is distracted by the noise and busyness of his crowded day care. The other’s mom struggles with the district-issued technology. Both students hold Individualized Education Plans.
My district is now moving into the “Orange Re-entry Plan” to bring in special education students to learn at school in a small-group setting of four to five students, with teacher support, and both of those students would make excellent candidates for such in-person learning. However, when I spoke about these students during a committee meeting with the district special education coordinator, all I got was pushback. “Are they progressing? And are they regressing?” the coordinator asked. I responded there was no progress and no regression. These are kindergarten students and had little data since they are hard to connect with to do assessments or any kind of intervention virtually. Of course, I had my intuition about where they were at, but I did not have enough data to validate from this year or the previous year on either student. This was another reason I felt they would be better served in an in-person learning setting.
Despite this context, the committee focused squarely on what more I could do to help remediate any learning loss the children may have or experience during the year. I needed to supply more materials, get them on Zoom for one-to-one intervention, and follow their IEPs from last year. I felt that our district leaders discarded my concerns.
Then the meeting shifted to online engagement. Since these students were not progressing nor regressing, they should be fine to continue online. Three weeks after the meeting I still have no answer as to whether those two students met the criteria to return? Will the district help their parents with the technology issues? Will it meet their IEPs? I have other questions, too. When did it become OK for our students not to progress? When did we become so complacent that we accept such low standards?
As a state, we have made a commitment to see all students succeed in their educational journey. The Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit made it clear that every student deserves access to high-quality teachers and equitable access to education. The families of both of my students for whom virtual learning is simply not working deserve to have their children transition from a failing, inequitable virtual learning experience to in-person learning.
The Orange Re-entry Plan was created to support special education students who were not able to learn remotely, but we are countering its purpose with “let’s keep trying.” Our responsibility as educators is to build the roads, not put up the roadblocks! Let’s make sure that (all of the children) have a chance at real progress.
Aimee Parra is a kindergarten teacher leader at Mesilla Elementary in Las Cruces, New Mexico and a 2020 Teach Plus New Mexico Teaching Policy Fellow.