Serving Special Needs Students During COVID-19: A Rural Educator's Story

This story by Corey Mitchell originally appeared in Education Week on June 3, 2020.

When schools in Owsley County, Ky., closed in early March, James Barrett hopped on his bus each morning to deliver meals to hundreds of students.

Then the special education teacher, who is also a bus driver for the rural district, would head home and log in for Zoom meetings with his high school special education students—some of whom have 3rd- and 4th-grade level skills in reading, writing, and math.

Across the country, widespread school closures have upended special education, which is administered through carefully constructed plans called Individualized Education Programs and require extensive services that are not easily transferred to the internet, even for families who have access.

And, while each student in Owsley County has access to high-speed internet, that does not mean they have it at home. In this rural community where the median household income is $15,805, the third lowest in the nation, not everyone can afford the $50 per month fees.