What’s in store for special education and edtech? Leaders weigh in

In this panel, FETC Conference Chair Jennifer Womble is joined by several superintendents and experts who share their advice for district leaders on how to address the growing concerns surrounding special education and how to leverage assistive technology to meet students' needs.

Earlier this month, the Future Education of Technology Conference (FETC) hosted another webinar ahead of next year’s conference titled “Envisioning the 2030 Technology Landscape for Special Education: A Strategic Conversation about the Expanding Autism Spectrum Population.” On this panel, I was joined by several superintendents and experts who shared their advice for district leaders on how to address the growing concerns surrounding special education and how to leverage assistive technology to meet students’ needs.

You can watch the webinar for free on-demand here. But in the meantime, here are a few key takeaways for K12 leaders:

“Special education is everybody’s business”

Kari Stubbs, senior vice president of Business Development at Stages Learning, whose mission is to help every child thrive by increasing equitable access to quality education, says all stakeholders should be involved in the conversation.

In 2010, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that one in 54 children had an autism spectrum disorder. Fast forward to 2021, the rate has nearly doubled to one in 36 children.

“The reason we need to care about this is not only because it’s a large portion of our student population that we’re treating, but those students are eight times more likely to be unemployed when they’re leaving our school systems,” Stubbs said.

We’ve yet to see the pandemic’s effects

Zandra Jo Galvan, superintendent of the Greenfield Union School District in Bakersfield, California, believes we’ll continue to see these rates rise. The challenge for K12 leaders is understanding how the pandemic has impacted this student population.

“I don’t think we’ve yet seen the effects of the pandemic on families and households and what that means for delays in academic growth, but also the incredible importance of social-emotional learning and proving the support that our students need,” she said.

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As a result, she said her district has spent its ESSER and state-provided funds to ensure each school has the proper staffing to meet these needs. Each school has two counselors, a social worker, two family community liaisons and several behavioral health specialists.

Leveraging technology for students with autism

In the Oakwood City School District in Ohio, Superintendent Neil Gupta said the district’s philosophy of education technology is built on four focus areas. According to Gupta, edtech should be:

  • Individualized
  • Student-led
  • Authentic
  • Collaborative

For instance, he shared excitement surrounding artificial intelligence and how it can create personalized learning experiences for students with autism.

In terms of keeping the conversation going with parents, Deb Kerr, superintendent of the St. Francis Public School District in Wisconsin, said remote communication technologies like Zoom have helped them conduct IEP meetings more efficiently with parents and families.

“We have seen a tremendous increase in attendance for our IEP meetings if they could be held on Zoom,” she said. “While we would prefer to do more of a hybrid unit, we try to meet parents where they are. That’s important because then they could schedule those meetings at a time that’s convenient for them.”

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