Parents of children with disabilities I the global south face difficult choices about when and how their child should safely return to in-person school since vaccines to prevent COVID-19 are not sure when they will become available. For example, in Kenya most schools have resumed with the clarion call from the ministry of education even to study under trees. Additionally, all schools are having a uniformly approach by allowing the ministry o health guidelines although the alcoholic sanitizer has been removed.
States parents are working through these challenges in their own ways. And each individual family is faced with making difficult decisions based on their unique circumstances.
Although some schools last year worked hard to deliver education through distance learning during the pandemic, news reports and firsthand accounts reveal that struggles to provide critical services, technology, and appropriate education to students with disabilities remain common. Families have had to supervise, monitor, and even directly teach their children while also trying to work, care for other family members, and manage other responsibilities at home. For most families, it has been challenging and for some, it has been difficult or even impossible to make distance learning work for children with disabilities.
Most importantly, everyone agrees that reopening schools safely as quickly as possible is a priority. But many parents are also understandably worried. After all, it’s not just a question of whether children will be exposed to the COVID-19 virus as schools reopen. Although most children seem to recover quickly or even show no symptoms, that does not mean an individual child might not experience a devastating illness or that family members who may have risk factors related to age, disability or underlying health conditions would not be vulnerable due to exposure. For children with underlying health conditions, the risk of infection and complications is a serious concern. Some parents worry that standard safety precautions schools put in place to protect everyone (such as mask wearing or social distancing will be very difficult for their child because of their disability or that going back to in-person learning may increase stress and anxiety or possibly trigger behavior issues for their children after months
of isolation and adjusting to pandemic-related routines.
On the other hand, in east Africa several media houses and recent studies have shown that 48 % of gender-based violence occurred during the COVID-19 period when the children were at home.
This is not surprising when the current Kenyan trend where children have started to threaten teachers with knives and some schools have recorded fire break outs.
This is a true indicator of what children were observing at home.
Moreover, many families lost livelihood and its on record that suicide cases are on the rise.
At list in Kenya 3 case are recorded.
Weighing the risks and benefits is difficult, and the more information that families have to make decisions, the better. Information is power and the more you know, the better prepared you are to advocate more effectively for your child. Remember, parents are an essential part of the team making these decisions about their child’s educational needs and information you share about your child is important because no one knows them better than you do. Whether you are advocating for your child to return to school as soon as possible — because they are more vulnerable to learning loss or because delivering their IEP services remotely doesn’t work, or later, because of family risks related to COVID-19 exposure or new safety requirements at school — it is important to document your concerns in writing. Start by gathering the information needed to help the IEP team make informed decisions.
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Mugambi Paul is a public policy, diversity, inclusion and sustainability expert.
Australian Chief Minister Award winner
“excellence of making inclusion happen”