LUBBOCK, TX — When his high school shut down last spring, 16-year-old John Westfall was devastated he wouldn’t get to do the activities he planned with his special education group over the summer.
But when he faced a choice to stay virtual or go back to class in person later this month, he still chose virtual.
“So far, I’m both liking [virtual school] and not liking it. The not liking part is that I’m going to have to miss a semester of my favorite elective,” he said.
John has autism, and due to the intense changes in the classroom that could trigger his anxiety and some family members with pre-existing health conditions, both John and his mother Angela Westfall said they’re going to wait out the first nine weeks before going back to in-person class.
“It was a really tough decision because John does love school so much,” Angela Westfall said.
Kami Finger, Executive Director of Special Services for LISD, gave KAMC News a clue of what the Westfalls’ school experience might look like. She said that students in special education who go virtual will be assigned virtual teachers and paraprofessionals to help with assignments at specific times, whether that’s during class or after school hours.
Other staff members, such as occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists, are equipped to continue therapy online through Telehealth, a service which they have been training with since March.
Finger added that in the new school system during the pandemic, parents will play a large role in their students’ education .
“We would ask our parents and guardians who are choosing virtual to be prepared for a significant amount of collaboration from us,” Finger said.
For students in special service programs, such as dyslexia or ESL programs, administrators will meet with parents to develop individual contingency plans for students.
For students in special education who choose to come back in person, Finger emphasized that LISD will implement stronger safety standards beyond what students will experience in general education classes.
“We’re providing all of our special education staff members clear masks that cover the entire face with a clear view and with a guard at the bottom,” Finger said.
Clear masks allow students who are deaf or rely on lip reading to still communicate with their teachers. The masks also help other disabled students who rely on recognizing facial expressions to communicate.
Other safety measures include scheduled hand washes and using visual aids and stories to explain how to social distance.
Some staff members will be required to wear both face shields and gowns. If a student struggles to wear a mask, he or she may be provided with a clear face shield or will leave class early to limit contact with other students.
The Westfalls said that they’re supportive of what LISD has done so far, and they urged other parents to be patient with their schools during the pandemic.
“I think it’s just a time where we can give each other a lot of grace and try not to judge what other people are deciding to do. I think everybody has to come to that decision. Unfortunately, it’s really hard,” Angela Westfall said.