Virtual schooling is exhausting. There are no ifs, ands or buts about that. Managing all the Zooms, passcodes, 30 different apps, walking kids through each frustrating step just to be able to turn their work in…it’s all completely overwhelming. Add in an IEP or 504 and that’s enough to send any parent over the edge. And as much as I wish I could say I have a handle on all of it, managing my kids’ IEPs while virtual schooling is overwhelming for multiple reasons.
For those of you wondering what the heck I’m talking about, an IEP is an individualized educational program. It is a legal document that is created for public school children with special education needs under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). An IEP documents a child’s present levels of performance, strengths, and needs. It states measurable annual goals for the child to achieve and identifies services and accommodations to help the child meet those goals. And it clarifies who is responsible for implementation of each part of the IEP.
I have been through this process with two of my kids, and acquiring an IEP is no easy task. Each child must have an educational evaluation to determine if they qualify for a disability that falls under one of the 13 categories IDEA covers. In my case, one of my kids qualifies under a speech and language impairment. My other kid qualifies under a visual impairment in combination with ADHD. And I have to admit that each time was a long, arduous, and confusing process that was both mentally and emotionally taxing.
Navigating an IEP is also a challenging process. As the parent, I have to stay on top of all aspects of the IEPs. It’s my job to ensure that everyone working with my children is aware of their IEPs. I also want to ensure that they are used properly and that the goals outlined continue to match the needs of my kids. This is all difficult in normal school times, and adding a worldwide pandemic to the mix makes it absolutely overwhelming.
In addition to my two kids with IEPs, my other two kids have 504s (kind of a less-intense version of an IEP) and I am barely keeping it together. It’s hard to stay on top of all the additional tutoring sessions, reading support, speech therapy, occupational therapy and counseling sessions spread across all my kids’ schedules. It adds up to about 15 additional Zoom sessions per week. Trying to remember the schedules, logins and passcodes sends my anxiety levels through the roof.
I spend a lot of time oscillating between being grateful that my kids still have access to services and cursing under my breath out of pure frustration. I can’t seem to find the balance between being overly communicative and feeling like a burden to overwhelmed teachers and administrators. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that any one of them thinks I am a nut job of a parent.
I am also frustrated for my kids. Being thrown into virtual schooling and losing their everyday routines has been challenging for them too. It feels like they are being asked to be successful at this with one hand tied behind their back and a blindfold on. My kids have complained it’s not fair that they have all these extra sessions. They are just truly over it, and I can’t even blame them, because so am I.
Basically, I am managing a one-room schoolhouse for four kids that have needs that I am not really qualified to meet. I often feel inadequate and guilty for not having the capacity to support all their needs as they navigate virtual schooling. I sometimes end up lashing out in frustration due to lack of knowledge, time, sleep and patience. With this pandemic, there is little to no down time away from my kids. It is hard to get a moment to pull myself back together. I feel exhausted and I have no idea how long I have to keep this up.
The most overwhelming part is that I also feel scared. I am scared my kids will lose the traction that we have all worked so hard to gain. And I fear that they may be significantly behind typical learning kids once we are back in school. I worry that going back to school may cause a regression. And I am most afraid that there isn’t much I can do to prevent any of this.
I have to be honest and admit that I come at this from a privileged perspective. My kids are relatively high functioning. I speak English and have a B.A. in child development. Moreover, I previously worked in education and understand the structure, language and culture of schools. I don’t face food scarcity or losing my job. And I have a husband who is home with me part time to carry some of the burden.
I cannot pretend to know the struggles of parents that have children with severe emotional, physical or cognitive challenges. For some special education kids, virtual learning is not even a possibility. And sometimes parents have to become full time caretakers with little to no support. I don’t fully understand what it means to deal with the challenges of IEPs while worrying about job security, feeding your family or simply being able to speak English with teachers and administrators.
This is not a sob story or a “woe is me” moment. I am not looking for sympathy or a reprieve from my parenting duties. I am just sharing my story of managing IEPs while virtual schooling so that other parents of kids with special needs don’t feel so alone or judge themselves so harshly. The frustration and overwhelm is something that we all experience.
There is no one to blame for any of this. We just have to remember that everyone — parents, kids, teachers, administrators, service providers — is trying their best in what sometimes seems to be a nearly-impossible situation.