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Garland ISD makes back-to-school plans for students with special needs

Even during the first four weeks of required virtual learning, children with special needs have the ability to schedule in-person physical and occupational therapy.

GARLAND, Texas — The first four weeks for all students at Garland Independent School District will be virtual, but parents are facing the decision of continuing online or face-to-face learning after.

For many families with special needs students, it's a difficult choice to make.

"We can get much more accomplished face-to-face, and my child needs that interaction," said Jeanie Marten. She's the mother of Sean Marten, an incoming freshman at Sachse High School. Sean has autism. The best option for her child is to have in-person learning.

Credit: Jeanie Marten

But for Shannon Thompson, her family is choosing to continue virtual learning. "At that time, our [Dallas County COVID-19] numbers were so high, I felt like I had to choose online just to protect her," said Thompson. Her daughter, Madison Thompson, is a junior at Rowlett High School with Down syndrome. 

Credit: Shannon Powell Thompson

Both are trusting the school district and its administration to provide options for their children. 

Garland ISD superintendent Ricardo López says special education is a priority. He's not only an educator, but it's personal for him. "I do have a daughter with Down syndrome...She is a beauty," López said. His daughter is Lauren López, and he knows how challenging virtual learning can be for students with special needs. 

Credit: Dr. Ricardo Lopez

"They need us, and they need the routine," he said. "You're going to have to keep their attention. You're going to have to keep them engaged. A lot of times, they need help."

In his district, there are options for students with special needs, including synchronous and asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning will be live video activities with the teacher and classmates, giving children a routine each day at home. Asynchronous learning will be lessons for families to do on their own time. 

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For children who need in-person physical or occupational therapy, one-on-one time can be scheduled on campus, even during the first four weeks of virtual school.

Garland ISD begins on August 10th virtually. On September 8th, children will attend school either in-person or online based on what guardians decide.

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