COVID-19’s Impact on Special Education

A little boy is playing with a busy board. Developming toy for children from one year old. Developming toy for children from one year old. Focus on the busy board

Posted in Development and Learning Disability Policy  |  Tagged

by Anny Angel (GU ’21), Bella Carlucci (GU ’23), Sela Dragich (GU ’21), Jonathan Kay (GU ’21), Hannan Moallin (GU ’22), & Taylor Villante (GU ‘21), October 04, 2021

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 has resulted in a complete shift to remote learning, which has posed an incredible set of challenges for educators, students, families, and caregivers. This post focuses on the unique challenges and impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on children and families who receive Special Education Services in schools. An international CARING through COVID Online Survey assessed the impact the COVID-19 stay at home orders has had on the access to educational and medical services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) and their respective caregivers. These stay-at-home orders caused a substantial loss in access to educational supports and services, with 74% of the parents reporting that their child lost access to at least one therapy or educational service (Jeste et al., 2020). The results from this survey reveal the particular impact of the reduction in access to in-person educational services for all students on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Many individuals with IDDs receive special education services and interventions including speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral support within their academic setting. The loss of these supports impacts not only the child, but also caregivers who relied on schools’ provision of services for their students (Jeste et al., 2020). The isolation caused by the pandemic have also caused challenges for families of children who receive special education services (Toseeb et al., 2020). Many families who usually rely on established relationships and professional support through schools had to figure out other ways to meet their child’s unique educational needs when certain in-person therapies via schools were halted entirely in the pandemic. A study in the UK entitled Supporting Families with Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities During COVID-19 focused on finding the most important support needs during lockdown, and during the transition back to in-person learning. Families expressed many needs but creating an established routine and providing mental health resources were identified as families’ most-needed supports (Toseeb et at., 2020).

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about great difficulties for all families and students receiving special education services, some school districts planned and communicated effectively to provide SPED services relatively smoothly in a virtual environment. The rural Commerce Independent School District (CISD) in northeast Texas implemented effective communication, collaboration, professional development and resource distribution, compliance, and effective translation of state and federal guidelines to continue providing special education services via online instruction, take-home packets, Zoom meetings, and telehealth services (Tremmel et al., 2020). CISD sets a positive example that other rural, under-resourced districts may follow to effectively provide special education services to maximize caregiver and student engagement and ultimately reduce the gap of learning outcomes between students with and without disabilities. It is vital for school districts to receive feedback from families, special education professionals, and students themselves in order to provide adequate support to meet the needs of students with disabilities and their families during this difficult time. As schools transition back to in-person learning, it is extremely important for schools to prioritize the social, emotional, and academic support for students receiving special education resources.

Anny Angel (GU ’21), Bella Carlucci (GU ’23), Sela Dragich (GU ’21), Jonathan Kay (GU ’21), Hannan Moallin (GU ’22), and Taylor Villante (GU ‘21


Jeste, S., Hyde, C., Distefano, C., Halladay, A., Ray, S., Porath, M., … & Thurm, A. (2020). Changes in access to educational and healthcare services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities during COVID‐19 restrictions. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research64(11), 825-833.

Toseeb, U., Asbury, K., Code, A., Fox, L., & Deniz, E. (2020, April 21). Supporting Families with Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities During COVID-19.

Tremmel, P., Myers, R., Brunow, D. A., & Hott, B.L. (2020). Educating Students With Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned From Commerce Independent School District. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 39(4), 201-210.