For some students, distance learning is a game-changer

When Daniel Goldberg took his final exams last December, he was dressed in little more than a sky blue hospital gown with an IV line sti...

When Daniel Goldberg took his final exams last December, he was dressed in little more than a sky blue hospital gown with an IV line sticking out of his arm.

Over the past year, Mr. Goldberg, a 24-year-old law student at Arizona State University, has switched between attending classes and seeing his doctors – sometimes from his hospital bed.

Before the pandemic, Mr Goldberg, who suffers from painful chronic inflammatory bowel disease, skipped school whenever he needed medical attention. But in the last school year, he didn’t miss any lessons and he said he became a better student as a result.

“It helped me realize, for example, ‘Wait, why can’t I get these accommodations all the time? ” “, did he declare. “I should be able to attend through Zoom if I need to.”

Mr Goldberg, whose condition also leaves him immunosuppressed and more vulnerable to coronavirus, has requested online accommodation as classes resume in person this fall – a request the university recently granted.

While many students have struggled with distance learning over the past year, some with disabilities have found it to be a lifeline. As the fall semester approaches, these students are pushing for remote housing to continue, even if face-to-face classes resume.

In fact, long before the pandemic, many students with disabilities had been call for such housing, often in vain. Last year, however, made distance education more feasible. While some colleges have resisted distance learning as an accommodation measure, others say they are considering it.

“The argument in the past, before Covid, was, ‘Of course, an online course is fundamentally different from a classroom course,'” said Arlene Kanter, a disability law expert at Syracuse University College of Law. “Well, Covid changed all that.”

Colleges and universities are generally required to provide “reasonable” accommodations or modifications for qualified students with disabilities – as long as these changes do not “fundamentally alter” the nature of the program or impose other undue burdens on institutions. .

These terms have always been subject to interpretation and debate. But since many colleges didn’t offer a tuition reduction for distance learning last year, they might have a harder time arguing that it is fundamentally different or inferior to teaching online. anybody.

“It maybe becomes a bit difficult for school officials to later claim that online connection would be a serious degradation of the educational environment,” said Adam M. Samaha, constitutional and legal expert. of Disability at New York University Law School. “If this is sufficient education, then a student might ask, ‘Why not extend the same principle to a person who has physical difficulties in going to class? “”

Cameron Lynch believes colleges weren’t built for students like her. Getting to class at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., Ms Lynch, a growing sophomore with muscular dystrophy, said she had to walk uneven brick walkways. And some of the older campus buildings lack accessibility features like elevators or ramps.

“Getting to class is always a bit difficult, regardless of Covid, so it’s nice to be online,” Ms. Lynch said.

Ms Lynch, who also suffers from celiac disease and diabetes, is immunocompromised. And even though she is vaccinated, she is afraid of contracting the coronavirus and has lived much of the past year in isolation.

Last year, when her college started offering in-person classes again, she discovered that some of the classes she needed for her dual major in sociology and administration were no longer offered online. She raised her concerns with the college’s disability services office. He refused to allow her to attend his compulsory courses remotely.

“They kind of told me to take an extra semester,” Ms. Lynch said.

Ms Lynch, who took online classes during the summer to catch up, said she was “stressed” by the fall semester and was unsure if she would be able to take all of them. courses she needed online.

Suzanne Clavet, spokesperson for William & Mary, declined to comment on Ms Lynch’s case and said the college viewed online learning as a possible accommodation on a case-by-case basis. In an email, she said: “In some cases, distance learning courses are not possible if it results in a fundamental change in the course.”

Remote housing also attracts some faculty members. Cornell University was rebuffed by faculty members when it announced it would “not approve requests” for distance education, for reasons such as accommodations for people with disabilities.

Two days later, the university said that “short-term or partial distance education” could be considered for those who cannot study or teach in person this fall. But “few courses” would be considered eligible for distance education, even if they were taught at a distance last year, said Michael I. Kotlikoff, the Cornell provost.

Ms Lynch said that in Chronic and iconic, an informal online support group she founded for immunocompromised students, students might “rash with people who get it” when they might otherwise feel isolated and unsupported on campus.

Students don’t have much recourse. “I can’t sue because it’s too expensive and I didn’t want to cause any problems at my school,” Ms. Lynch said.

Just knowing that online courses are an option can help students with disabilities by assuring them that there is a safety net.

Last semester, Sophia Martino, a senior at the University of Missouri who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair, chose to attend two in-person lab classes. In May, she fell ill with Covid-19, despite having been vaccinated.

Even after this difficult year, she plans to take in-person classes this fall. But knowing that the university has already given a handful of students permission to attend distance learning classes this year, she said, makes her feel better about taking classes in person, because there are accommodations if she needs it.

“The idea of ​​distance education as accommodation is something newer since the pandemic,” said Ashley Brickley, director of the university’s disability center.

Indeed, online courses are not a panacea, as Georgia Military College biology student Cory Lewis discovered last year. Mr. Lewis has sickle cell anemia, which can cause fatigue, chronic pain and organ damage and makes him particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases. He was hospitalized four times last year, including once for kidney failure, and has spent months in persistent pain.

If this had been a normal academic year, perhaps he should have withdrawn from classes, he said. Instead, he was able to stay enrolled. An enterprising biology teacher even sent home lab kits, containing all the supplies he needed to conduct a variety of hands-on experiments.

But Mr Lewis struggled to concentrate in his other distance learning courses and his grades dropped, he said. So he plans to return to in-person learning this fall, even though he’s worried about his health.

“I learn a lot better when I’m in front of the teacher,” said Mr Lewis, who is fully vaccinated but said some of his classmates were not. “But knowing that my health could be at risk, especially with the Delta variant, I don’t know what’s going to happen with school now.”

He is grateful for having had the flexibility of distance learning. Ms Martino, for her part, would like to be able to attend remotely long after the pandemic is over – perhaps on days when her muscles ache and it’s hard to get out of bed, or when the weather is bad. and that it is difficult to get to class in your wheelchair.

“Maybe in the future they would consider having it run as a hybrid course where if you had to attend online that would be good,” she said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: For some students, distance learning is a game-changer
For some students, distance learning is a game-changer
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