The 2020-2021 school year has had its share of challenges. The Guam Department of Education had to adjust learning models to continue providing students with an education. But for parents of special-needs children, the year has been extra difficult, and one parent says the school system is leaving her and her children behind.
Charelle Almandres Gogue is a mother of nine, and two of her children are on the autism spectrum. Her son Zayen was diagnosed when he was 2 years old. Her daughter Ziarah was diagnosed at 5.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has had many parents stepping in as teachers, educating a child with special needs requires special skills. But Gogue said her special-needs children are not provided with any additional educational direction.
“It’s been hard because all the school does is they just write in highlighter what the answers are and I’m just supposed to have them trace it. So it’s not like in school. They’re told it’s time to work, they know what to do,” Gogue said, comparing the school setting to home. “Here, I have to like force them, so it’s like me doing their work because they are just leaving their hand on there and I’m the one moving the pencil for them.”
‘I am hitting a brick wall’
Gogue explained that her autistic children rely on routine and, with the pandemic disrupting that routine, things have become extremely difficult.
Her children have Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs. These plans set goals for students to reach by the end of each semester and include the specific guidance provided by teachers to help attain those goals and see how those goals are measured.
“Our teachers who work with our special-needs population ensure the hard copy packets are aligned with the goals listed in a student’s IEP,” said Jon Fernandez, GDOE superintendent. “In light of COVID-19, interim IEPs are also implemented to accommodate for the student’s selected model of learning. Parents are encouraged to work with their child’s teachers to review the hard copy packet and to discuss strategies parents may use to meet the needs of their exceptional student.”
However, Gogue said she isn’t getting much help from GDOE.
“I am hitting a brick wall and I don’t know what to do,” Gogue said, noting that she’s not familiar with teaching methods to help her children.
Gogue said that, as it stands, monitoring progress for her two children through the IEP is based on work submitted, and she doesn’t believe it is an accurate reflection of their development.
Additionally, the lack of help from her children’s school has led her to believe that her children are falling further behind developmentally.
“Our students are provided the support and instruction needed to receive a quality education,” Fernandez said, when asked if special-needs children received adequate education during the pandemic. “Teachers are trained so that they can provide specialized instruction for their students. Both teachers and students also have the support and guidance of the school-based IEP team. This team reviews and assesses a student’s IEP with the teachers, students and parents to make sure everyone understands the child’s educational goals and the strategies used to achieve those goals.”
Other kids need help, too
And for Gogue, having multiple children all going to school, she’s stretched thin, having to step in as a teacher for them all.
“I have how many other kids going to school, too, and we are doing hard copies for all of them. But those two require more, they are more needy and request more attention than the rest of my kids,” she said.
“And it’s hard because I don’t know how the school does it. So how the school does it compared to how I do it here at home, it’s totally different.”
Gogue has elected to keep her children home under the hard copy learning model because her children would not be able to adhere to the social distancing and safety measures in place, such as wearing a mask. But the interruption in her children’s learning routines has presented new challenges this past year.
“I can say they have more tantrums now compared to when they were going to school. I mean they have a tantrum here and there, but it’s not as bad. Now, since they’ve been out of school, it’s just out of control, you know, because they don’t have that routine anymore,” said Gogue.
Gogue indicated she believes GDOE has placed special-needs education on the back burner.
“Because, like I said, when they are doing the work it’s just instructions what to do, it’s not really all that thorough. It’s just I can’t get them to work the way they do in their school setting, and it feels like the school is just basically doing tracing and that’s it. I mean that’s all the help that I get,” said Gogue.
Resources are available
Fernandez recognized that the pandemic has presented a challenge in providing support for students in GDOE’s Special Education program.
“However, the GDOE Division of Special Education and the school-based IEP teams are working with teachers and parents to ensure that every exceptional learner is provided specialized instruction and a quality education,” said Fernandez.
Parents and legal guardians are always encouraged to contact their children’s teachers and the school IEP teams should they have any questions or concerns.
The superintendent said the Division of Special Education provides resources for teachers and parents on the GDOE website.
“The division also hosts monthly meetings with our regular resource teachers to address any questions teachers may have and to provide guidance on instructional strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the Division of Special Education is currently hosting weekly online parent training sessions on strategies and practices parents may utilize to provide support at home for their children.”
Fernandez added that Parent Services, under the Division of Special Education, can provide parents with support while they work with their children’s IEP teams. Parents and legal guardians can call Laura Taisipic at Parent Services at 300-1322.