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Special Education and English Languages Learners

Online learning can provide individualization of curriculum and instruction in ways that can make it an ideal tool for many learners with special needs, including special education students and English language learners (ELL). Benefits can include:

  • Individualized, flexible pacing allows students to review content as necessary
  • Elimination of distraction from large group environments can allow for better concentration
  • Alternate presentation methods, as required by Section 508, provide multiple modes by which English Language Learners can learn
  • Embedded glossaries help build vocabulary according to each individual’s needs
  • Courses with reading levels that differ from mainstream courses can be developed to meet individual needs
  • The need to actively participate in online discussions prevents Special Education and ELL students from becoming invisible in the classroom
  • Large amounts of reading and writing in online courses, while providing challenges for ELL students, require intensive practice and language immersion that can help build skills

Your policies can describe your commitment to special needs populations, define how Individual Education Plan (IEP) teams treat online learning programs, and ensure legal compliance with all relevant laws. Any policy that prohibits special needs students from participating in online courses is likely to be unnecessarily discriminatory and possibly illegal. Policies should ensure that suitable opportunities are available and used appropriately for these populations of students.

Teams need to be able to make educated decisions about what challenges special needs students might face and what support they might need to be successful in online courses. Policies should include guidance regarding the following:

  • How will all members of IEP and ELL teams become educated about the factors that determine the suitability of online courses for any particular student or group of students?
  • What team of people will oversee the use of online courses for special needs students to ensure appropriate uses?
  • If your program allows participation from outside the school, how often will you meet with special needs students face-to-face?
  • If your program serves students from multiple schools or districts, how will you partner with those schools to ensure that adequate services are provided and that funding is distributed according to services provided and in keeping with federal laws?
It is important to be aware of the legal obligations that are associated with access & equity issues.