Special needs students left with few options for remote learning in Wake County


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – 3 Bluebirds Farm in Raleigh provides services to children, teens and young adults with autism. They offer summer camps and social clubs for young people with autism.

Their focus has shifted in recent weeks. Behind their gates are some of the only support students with autism have for remote learning.

“It’s a diservice to all of us,” said founder Erin O’Loughlin.

She has now started providing a hands-on learning center for students like her son.

“As a parent of student with severe autism, I’m feeling very disheartened and very exasperated right now,” O’Loughlin said.

Students have a structured day with support staff to guide them through an online classes. All students are from different schools with different schedules. It means staff has to juggle to make learning work.

Andrea Smud has worked with special needs students for last 10 years. She’s one of the staff that leads group activities. and one-on-one work.

“It’s just a few but at least we’re able to make a difference in their lives,” said Smud.

Many are falling behind on speech or fine motor skills. Most tried Wake County Public School’s learning centers but they just don’t work for their needs. O’Loughlin said autistic students can feel overwhelmed by those types of environments. While staff in those centers mean well, they are not equipped to work with specialized populations.

“[Their basic] skills are, these are matching or learning how to hold a pencil. So, their skills don’t even match what the school is requiring them to do,” she said.

There’s little teachers can do to help remotely.

“This is ridiculous for them because there’s no way they can help their students and we really are the only ones currently providing this services,” said Smud.

It’s not any easier for students.

O’Loughlin said, “They have a hard time understanding when we have connectivity issues with the internet, many of them cannot tolerate headphones.”

She understands the districts’ difficult position. Still- she feels the district is not meeting all students needs.

Click here for COVID-19 resources for individuals with special needs during.

“I’d like to understand from the Wake County Public School System why during the five months they had for planning while the schools were closed, why alternative plans were not come up with for our families, for these students? Because once again we feel like after thoughts,” she said.

Governor Roy Cooper’s Phase 2.5 allows for places like gyms to be open. O’Loughlin said she would like to see students with special needs be allowed back to in-person instruction. While a typical classroom has several dozen students, a special needs class is usually under a dozen.

CBS 17 has reached out to Wake County Public Schools for a response to these concerns and has not heard back. This story will be updated if/when a response is provided.

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