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Recently there was an article written by Nirvi Shah dated October 9, 2012, entitled, “New Center: Concerns About Online Options for Special Ed. Students.” See http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/speced/2012/10/new_center_serious_concerns_ab.html?qs=new+center. This article raises some real and growing concerns regarding the effectiveness of on-line courses for students with disabilities. This article cites concerns with, “Inconsistent policies from state to state and district to district for providing special education and related services to students with disabilities in online environments.” Id. It also cites as a concern, “Major gaps in basic and advanced accessibility for students with disabilities.” Id. Further, “’As some states have begun to include online learning as a graduation requirement, this poses a significant civil rights issue.’” Id. This article also raises the concern about monitoring the qualifications and training of on-line teachers and courses as well as the fact that they do not have any nation wide data as to the effectiveness or even usage of on-line courses for students with disabilities. Id. As more and more on-line learning takes place, standards need to be developed as to the training of on-line teachers, guidelines need to be established as to the curriculum, efforts need to be made to include students with disabilities but only if the courses actually meet their individual needs and only in accordance with their Individual Education Program (IEP).
It is imperative for States, School Districts, Curriculum Directors, individual Child Study Teams, and parents to take a proactive stand on this issue. Students with disabilities cannot be lumped into one category, as there are many types and facets of disabilities that need to be taken into account when requiring students to complete on-line courses as a graduation requirement. If on-line courses are appropriate for a particular student with disabilities and it does not in any way violate a student’s right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), then on-line courses could be considered in addition to or as an alternative for a traditional teacher instructed classroom setting. However, I caution that if an on-line course is available in the area of learning to be studied, that research is conducted about that course to determine the level and training of the teachers, the reputation of the program in your State or in other States, the nature of the work to be completed, the effectiveness of their testing methods or how they measure progress and learning for each student, what mechanisms are in place in the event that the student is not learning or understanding the material being taught, the cost of the programs, and the ability to transition into another more effective course in the event that the on-line course does not meet the needs of a student with or without disabilities. To just require students with disabilities, to take on-line courses as a requirement of graduation, without any other alternative or the ability to modify coursework, time tables, or assignments, could easily be seen as a violation of those students’ civil rights and a violation of FAPE.
However, with that said, it does not necessarily mean that all on-line courses or methods of learning are bad or could lead to a violation of students’ rights. There are many effective and competent on-line courses that do meet individual student’s needs. There are several programs that address the needs of students with for example, Central Auditory Processing, ADHD, Dyslexia, or issues with focusing and concentration, visual or auditory learners, and learning issues for students with Autism, that have proven to be not only effective but have helped students learn in ways they would not be able to in a traditional classroom. Therefore, keeping in mind the potential downfalls of on-line learning, States and School Districts can now formulate curriculum that address those concerns and create safety measures with intensive approval processes to ensure that on-line learning can be maximized by students, with or without disabilities. Please feel free to post your comments about this and other posts. For more information on this or other topics, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (973) 433-2121.