Hundreds of OKCPS special needs students return to the classroom

Digital First

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – This week around 500 special education students within Oklahoma City Public Schools have returned to the classroom. Face-to-face learning is critical for the severe profound population, so when the district presented the option for in-person learning, many parents opted in.

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Hundreds of OKCPS special needs students return to the classroom (Photo: KFOR)

“These kids, they need more attention one-on-one,” said Teresita Fabela, a mother of a severe profound student. “It is hard virtual, because teachers here at this school, they are so, so happy to help them. They are a big piece of the education for our kids. I don’t think we can do the teacher’s role at home.”

Teresita Fabela’s son, Josue, is autistic and has attention deficit disorder. She said special education is critical for students like her son, because it goes beyond standard curriculum.

“They help us to teach Josue like how to take a shower, how to brush his teeth, how to talk to other people,” said Fabela. “It’s not just the education, it’s specials that they need and we don’t have that training. We don’t have those tools at home. So that’s why there’s no way we can just continue having virtual classes.”

After months of virtual learning this past spring, the district’s director of special services, Erin Trussell, saw just how important the need was for in-person learning.

“Knowing that, you know, if I can fight for them to come back into the building, that was my major goal, was what I was going to do,” said Trussell.

Trussell succeeded, giving the option of in-person learning first to the severe profound population, which includes around 700 students that are intellectually disabled, autistic, deaf and hard of hearing and students who are visually impaired. Of that 700, around 500 students decided to return to the classroom four days a week and virtually on Fridays.

“Our goal is to keep them in the room with the least amount of traffic,” said Trussell. “So when the kids get there, they’ll have their temperatures checked before they even enter the building and then they will go directly to their classroom. They’ll be doing lunch and breakfast with their teacher in the classroom.”

Trussell said teachers will utilize a schedule with allotted times for activities, followed by a break to clean the area.

“Any time the students are at the desk, it’s being cleaned. If they go to the restroom, it’s being cleaned,” said Trussell.

Students will be asked to wear masks, and the staff has been provided masks, face shields and even plexiglass to ensure a safer learning environment.

Trussell said the coming weeks will help them identify what works and how they can implement further protocols, and then possibly adding other groups back to the classroom, as well.

The Oklahoma Media Center, launched by Local Media Foundation with financial support from Inasmuch Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, is a collaborative of 18 Oklahoma newsrooms that includes print, broadcast and digital partners. The OMC’s first project is Changing Course: Education & COVID. This story is part of that effort.

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