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Liz Kolb discusses equity in special education in light of COVID-19

April 01, 2020

Professor Liz Kolb was quoted in an article in USA TODAY that questions online education offerings for students taking part in special education.


In the article “Is online school illegal? With schools closing from coronavirus, special education concerns give districts pause,” journalist Erin Richards explains that students in special education may face additional challenges accessing online coursework as they continue schooling through distance learning in the face of COVID-19 concerns.

Some schools have postponed government-mandated meetings for special needs students until schools reopen—which may not happen until fall. This means that there will not be a regular check-up into how well a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) is being met. 

As districts scramble to establish distance learning plans for long-term school closures, they're struggling to provide services to students with disabilities and those with other exceptional circumstances. It's a challenge with broad implications, tied to financial consequences for districts and developmental consequences for the most vulnerable students in America. Some districts are specifically not moving education online because of equity concerns. 

Ann Arbor Public Schools officials are distributing learning devices and internet hot spots to families with limited technological access, said Richards, and leaders continue to make plans for keeping students with special needs engaged.

“One of the things that we know about online learning and virtual instruction is that it can increase some of the gaps that we have in education, especially around equity issues of low socioeconomic status students and more affluent students,” said Dr. Kolb, who teaches education technologies in the Educator Preparation program.  

Kolb added that it’s going to take time for teachers to understand how to meet these needs and for support staff like paraprofessionals to determine how to do that virtually.

“Most virtual schools are able to make these accommodations, but they have had years to put these supports in place,” she said. “Traditional face-to-face schools are aware they need to do this, but they may still be working on the ‘how.’”

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Clinical Professor, Marsal Family School of Education

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