Education at a crossroads for students with disabilities

Four teenagers use tablets to do work as they sit at a table.
From left, Amos Spring, Roman Garza and Asher Spring use apps on tablets during distance learning at home, as Audrey Spring takes part in a video chat.
Courtesy of Leah Spring

Isolated at home with few services to help, many Minnesota families of students with disabilities say they are terrified that their children's progress in school will regress.

It’s a trend across the country. Almost 75 percent of parents of students with special needs in the Los Angeles Unified School District say their children are showing signs of regression during distance learning. According to a survey from the advocacy group Speak UP, some students are having meltdowns, difficulty staying focused and are showing signs of learning loss.

A school administrator, a parent and special education teachers share how distance and hybrid learning is affecting their students with learning and physical disabilities.


  • Fhonda Contreras is the Hopkins School District’s director of special services.

  • Jamie O’Conner is the outreach coordinator for Family Voices of Minnesota, an organization that provides information, resources and emotional support to families raising children with special health care needs and disabilities.

  • James Schmidtke teaches at Intermediate School District 287, which serves about 1,000 high-needs kids from across Hennepin County.

  • Heather Bakke teaches special education to high school students at GFW Schools, an independent public school district in south central Minnesota.

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