A special ed teacher known as “Nay” is garnering a good deal of social media praise for holding one-on-one sessions with her students in the bed of her pick-up truck. She’s been driving all over Mexico to visit her students in person during the pandemic, many of whom have been diagnosed with autism.
The decision to reopen schools is rife with pros and cons; special education teachers have an even steeper hill to climb as we approach the new school year. Their students require a range of in-person services, and some of them may be unable to wear a face mask for medical reasons, further complicating things.
Find out how special ed teachers are preparing for the new year, and why Nay is considered such an inspiration.
Special Education in the U.S.
The U.S. was already grappling with a shortage of special education providers before the pandemic. Statistics show that there is an average of one special education teacher for every 17 students with disabilities, which is higher than the overall average teacher-student ratio of 1:16.
The number of special education teachers nationally has dropped by more than 17% over the past decade, while the number of students with disabilities has decreased by only 1% over the same time period, showing us that the problem is only getting worse.
In addition to the concerns many parents and educators are facing, many teachers will have to work closely with their students, which could put both parties at risk of infection. Many students also have existing medical conditions that could make them more susceptible to the virus.
However, most providers and educators agree that students need to get back the classroom as quickly as possible without compromising their safety.
Lynne Grosenth, an educator who recently visited the White House to lobby for students to return to the classroom, said, “It’s just critical to get them back safely. They could have physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech. It’s so much better for those students to have that therapist with them.”
Educating these students over Zoom or FaceTime can be a challenge. Bringing them back on campus would also give them greater access to medical and other essential services that they may not have at home.
Why Nay is Such an Inspiration
Photos of Nay have popped up all over social media over the last few days. She’s become an inspiration to the many providers and parents dealing with similar issues.
According to the caption, she started driving over two hours to visit her students when Mexico decided to close schools earlier in the year. She converted the back of her truck into a portable classroom with a small desk, worksheets, and plenty of hand sanitizer. It’s a great way to keep in touch with the kids without putting either party at significant increased risk. They both wear face masks over the course of each lesson to limit the spread of infection.
Of course, many educators don’t have the resources to follow in Nay’s footsteps, but she’s being hailed as a “hero” nonetheless. It’s a testament to how far teachers are willing to go for their students. It’s not clear when Mexico plans to reopen the schools, but Nay will likely keep making the commute until it’s safe to return to the classroom.
Special education is sure to look different this year around the globe, whether students return to the classroom or not. The U.S. Department of Education says, “All educators and families need to be focused on doing what’s right for kids,” but many districts do not have the resources to keep students and teachers safe, especially when it comes to special ed.
Some districts may focus their efforts on bringing back students who require in-person learning over those that can learn at home, including younger children and those with special needs.
North Dakota recently announced that it plans to direct more federal funding toward special needs programs and providers across the state. Hopefully, more states will consider doing the same.