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Guest column: Vulnerable students fall further behind

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — 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.

I constantly worry about the few faces not always present. Andres and Steve are two of my students for whom virtual learning is not working.

Andres logs on but is distracted by the noise and busyness of his crowded daycare. Steve’s mom struggles with the district-issued technology.

Both have Individualized Education Plans.

My district is 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. Andres and Steve would make excellent candidates for such learning.

However, when I spoke about these students during a committee meeting with the district special-education coordinator, I got pushback.

“Are they progressing? And are they regressing?” the coordinator asked.

I responded there was no progress and no regression. These are kindergartners and have little data since they are hard to connect with for assessments or intervention virtually.

I had my intuition about where they were, 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 on what more I could do to help remediate any learning loss the children may have 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 our district leaders discarded my concerns. Then the meeting shifted to online engagement.

Since these students were not progressing or regressing, they should be fine to continue online. Three weeks after the meeting, I still have no answer on whether Steve and Andres 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 suit made it clear that every student deserves access to high-quality teachers and equitable access to education.

Andres’ and Steve’s families 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 not able to learn remotely, but we are countering its purpose with “let’s keep trying.”

Our responsibility as educators is to build roads, not put up roadblocks! Let’s make sure that Andres, Steve and other children like them 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.)



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