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"He's falling behind" | Concerns about the impacts of virtual learning on students with disabilities

A local family, with a deaf first grader, are concerned he will not bounce back as easily as other students.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Like so many other parts of life, schooling and education have been turned upside down in the pandemic. Students, parents, teachers and administrators are trying to navigate learning safely, or doing it from a distance.

But there are extra challenges for students with disabilities or in need of different services. A Charlotte family is worried their son, who was born deaf, is falling too far behind because of virtual learning.

Six-year-old Connor is still adjusting to school at the kitchen counter.

“He is completely deaf in one ear. He has a profound loss and wears a cochlear implant,"  said his mom Courtney Aseltine. "Then he has a moderate to severe loss in his right ear so right now he wears a hearing aid." 

In the classroom, he'd work with several teachers and aides, but that's not possible in the pandemic. Right now, his Charlotte charter school is completely online.

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“It’s really, really challenging," said Aseltine.

It can be difficult for him to tell who is speaking on group zoom sessions, and can't read, so he can't have closed captioning like older students with hearing impairments.

“A lot of his work relies on watching videos and trying to figure out what people are saying through a screen. He's falling behind,” said Aseltine.

She is a teacher and understands it's a difficult time for everyone but worries students with disabilities will have a harder time bouncing back.

“You have kids with IEPs who already have struggles who are not receiving the services they need to the extent they need them," she said. "They're going to stall with their progress, or they're going to regress." 

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And Connor, who always has a smile on his face, has stopped wanting to do virtual schooling.

“She gave the assessment and put answers up he saw that he didn't get any right. And he put his head on my shoulder and he started to cry. And that broke my heart,” said Aseltine.

She knows Connor isn't the only student who feels this way and she's not the only parent struggling with virtual learning. But thinks there is a teachable moment here, to recognize what those who already face learning challenges are up against.