Exceptional learning resumes during pandemic

Dr. Vakesha E. Mays

VALDOSTA — When classes moved to an online format for the remainder of the academic year, many parents and students wondered how this dynamic would work.

The switch posed a challenging learning curve to all students, but for those with special needs, extra steps needed to be taken. 

Dr. Vakesha E. Mays, director of the program for exceptional children for Valdosta City Schools, said the department continues providing online resources and support for students with disabilities during the pandemic.

The city school system has added a link for students with disabilities to its website under the COVID-19 section. The link has resources instructing parents how to access online learning programs and provides contact information for the program for exceptional children. The page includes four program links, each focusing on different areas of learning and adjusts to the student’s needed learning pace.

The section of the site includes information on home learning for all students and meal distribution sites.

“Additionally, special education teachers are reaching out to their students and families weekly in order to offer support and resources as well as answer any questions that families may have during this time.  We will continue to support our students and families during this unprecedented time and look forward to seeing our students once school resumes,” Mays said.

At the collegiate level, Valdosta State University promotes Universal Design for Instruction, an educational framework that focuses on greater accessibility for all students, including students with disabilities. 

The university has encouraged professors to design all course materials to be accessible for students with disabilities. 

“When classes move into an online format, the accommodations that the students are eligible for are easily transferrable, as well. For example, any audio/visual materials should be captioned accurately, whether there is a student in the class who requires captions or not. Some other common accommodations include extended testing time, reduced distraction testing environment, access to lecture notes and deadline considerations. In the online course, the test times can be configured specific to a student. The students can control their own testing environment in their location off campus. All notes will be available for review online; and most materials are available from the beginning of the course, so the student has ample time to work on assignments,” according to a statement from Valdosta State University.

A unique challenge during distance learning had been providing distance interpreting for students who require an American sign language interpreter and interpreting and captioning lectures that professors are creating for the online environment.

VSU’s Access Office is tackling these, and all challenges students may be facing, head on, according to the university, and is “focusing efforts on supporting students and faculty who are navigating this new and evolving instructional setting.”

Parents or students, no matter the learning situation, can find information on all of the schools’ respective websites and social media pages. 

Desiree Carver is a reporter at the Valdosta Daily Times. She can be reached at (229) 244-3400 ext. 1215.

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