Special-needs students, teachers cope with change

  • The Hartwell Sun
    The Hartwell Sun

Shifting an entire school district to online learning in a matter of days is no easy task. But the Hart County Charter System, along with school districts throughout Georgia and the U.S., had no choice in the matter as the COVID-19 pandemic began quickly spreading domestically. 

For Hart County’s special education coordinator, Katrina Cook, making a quick change posed several challenges because many special educations students require special circumstances to learn. 

“It’s not like there is a playbook for this,” Cook said. 

She knows it has been tough for all families to adapt. Parents must become like substitute teachers and children must learn a new routine. Teachers, on the other hand, aren’t able to directly interact with students with whom they have developed relationships. Those relationships are especially meaningful to special education teachers who work with students with special needs, Cook said. 

Many special education students, those considered severe and profound chief among them, Cook said, require extra time, patience and accommodations to keep on track toward their individualized education plans, or IEPs.  

“So for special-needs students, the sudden changes are definitely magnified,” she said. “The severe and profound students, especially, rely on routine.” 

To try and maintain as much routine as possible, Cook said special education teachers in Hart County are using every tool in their digital arsenal to try and maintain some sense of normalcy for their students, who teachers often think of as their own. 

“It’s a very emotional time for teachers because we miss them and we worry about them,” Cook said. 

Special education teachers are staying in close contact with their students via video chats, phone calls, text messages, basically anyway they can, she said. Speech therapists, for example, are using video chats so they can continue to work with their students while not actually having the ability to be in the same room.

Cook is facilitating communications with families of special-needs students however she can. She is doing everything from dropping off materials at students’ homes to filling in gaps for teachers to ensure they can meet the specific needs. 

Cook and her staff are, like everyone else during the pandemic response, adapting and learning everyday, she said. 

“It’s an ever-evolving situation,” Cook said. “We’re
all passionate about what
we do.”