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Remote learning brings unique challenges for special education teachers and families

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Posted at 3:49 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 20:51:51-05

TEMPE — ABC15 first met Felicia Tew in the spring of 2017 while she was working hand-in-hand with her life skills students at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe.

Three years later, like so many teachers across Arizona, Tew is getting creative with whatever she has.

"This has been the most unique situation I've ever seen," said Tew, who has been teaching for 27 years.

From bringing online cooking demonstrations to life in her kitchen, to wearing costumes for themed lessons and close virtual encounters with the family reptiles, her entire home is now her classroom. The Tempe Union High School District is still in distance learning, although the district is offering on-site support for students who need it.

"I've been very fortunate, all my parents have been on, my students have been on, and I've just had to keep things as functional as possible," said Tew.

"I've been helping him get on his Zoom meetings in the morning, and then managing it that way," said Denning Davis, whose son Dustin is one of Tew's longtime students.

Right now, the family says the health risks of COVID-19 outweigh the benefits of in-person learning, and after nearly two decades navigating Arizona's special education system, they welcome any additional actions to help families get through what can be a grueling process.

"It's been a battle every day to make sure that Dustin was in the right environment," said Inge-lise Davis, Dustin's mom. "We actually had to move away from where we lived and find another place to live to get into that program."

Nathanial DeWaard is another one of Tew's students. His mom, Geri, shared similar thoughts.

"I think that's what makes it hard is you have this very large range of students and they're trying to do the best they can to accommodate everybody."

DeWaard says she has noticed some declines in Nathanial's academic progress, but she too feels that right now, his physical health has to come first.

"He's already outlived his expectation of life expectancy, he's already doubled it, so it wasn't worth taking the risk for us," she said.

These are difficult decisions with no official end in sight. For now, Tew and her class will keep taking it one day at a time.

"I always have to try to look at it from a positive perspective, I teach special ed, you know that's what we do! We make the best of it," said Tew.