Students with disabilities and distance learning

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Sophomore Izaya Vazquez participates in distance learning by completing his homework on a computer

By Meghan Rostvit, Owatonna High School

Students at OHS are now forced to complete April assignments online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current workload stress has developed new pressure for students. While students miss the face to face interaction, other students need it to process.

One student who is affected by losing the face-to-face interaction is Izaya Vazquez. Vazquez is a sophomore at OHS, and he has an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

Vazquez said, “It is an eye condition that affects my retina and how information is processed through my mind and my cone and rods. A light source is processed through my mind, and too much or not enough light can make it difficult to see things. If it worsens, I could go blind one day.”

With the switch to distance learning, Vazquez says that being online has caused some issues. Vazquez said, “There are a few things that I have to face every day, one is having headaches after a long day of school. My eyes get strained and tired after staring at a screen all day.”

Distance learning at home has also shown to cause some other problems. Vazquez said, “In addition to being online, students are not doing a lot of work in a day. The distractions of being online and your phone can cause you to leave work until the last minute.”

Because schools needed to transition to online education within a short period of time, and teachers having to make adjustments constantly to fit the needs of students, there have been a few obstacles.

Special Education teacher Ms. Alexis Seiffert said, “A lot of my job is based on relationships with students and communication with teachers, students and families. It’s been difficult to figure out how to meet that need through distance learning, especially for families that don’t use email regularly or students who struggle to complete school work on their own.”

In the limited time the teachers had, they were trying to make things work out to the best of their ability.

Ms. Seiffert explained how some students have experienced a few difficulties. She said, “I think the biggest obstacles students are facing revolve around not getting as much face to face time–they are having a hard time keeping track of assignments, due dates, and expectations for each class. Many of my students have said the most difficult things for them are the number of emails they get every day and trying to keep track of classes on both Schoology and Google Classroom.”

Teachers are trying their best to make online school convenient for each individual student, but the number of different platforms has made it challenging for students to keep track of all their assignments.

Teachers have been using a variety of ways to communicate with their students. Even though using email, Google Classroom and Zoom are great resources, it still is not the same as getting the face-to-face interaction.

Special Services Supervisor Ms. Sarah McGuire says, “The biggest obstacle is actually only being able to see and interact with students each day over the phone. Teachers have been outstanding in making sure they are able to have phone calls, emails, messages, videos and Hangouts with students so there is a personal connection.”

The pandemic has shown OHS that the staff and students are able to demonstrate resilience and growth even through frightening and unpredictable times. And with the challenge of distance learning, both students and teachers are stepping up to make the most use of time.

This story was originally published on Magnet on April 20, 2020.