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Why Remote Learning Difficult for Some Students With Behavioral Concerns

August 26, 2020

It’s challenging enough to deliver academic lessons in virtual classrooms, but without the nuances of human interaction that come with in-person learning, students with behavioral concerns can flounder.

“These are students who need social-emotional guidance, which is difficult to do through the screen,” said Jill Bourbeau, chief administrator for the Natchaug and Rushford schools in Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network (BHN).

As most Connecticut school systems plan a hybrid return to the books this fall – combining days of in-person and remote learning each week – Bourbeau said BHN schools will offer instruction in person to best help the students. If parents want to keep their kids home due to concerns about COVID-19 infection, which she said very few have, they can access all of the same services they need through virtual learning. (If you or your child are having mental health or substance-abuse during COVID-19, call our Community Care Center hotline at 1.833.621.0600.)

“We ran summer school in person and it went very well,” she said. “Our students need to be in school where we can make a difference for them.”

BHN students often need guidance reading social situations and body language in addition to academic support. Bourbeau said teachers and school-based clinicians can use clear face masks, which help the students see their facial expressions during lessons and clinical time.

“Our kids need pro-social skills to learn how to react,” she said.

The smaller size of BHN schools makes implementing state COVID-19 guidelines easier than public schools. Most classes have six to eight students and Bourbeau said staff has distanced desks six feet apart. Classes will stay together for services, and accommodations have been made to bring things like group counseling into each room in order to keep students together.

“We’re trying to cohort as best we can so they deal with the same people every day. That way, if there’s an outbreak, we can contain it,” Bourbeau said.

Masks are required most times in the schools with rewards like gift certificates given as encouragement for students to keep them on.

“We’re trying to leverage their disabilities and also keep everyone safe,” she said.

Other safety measures adopted this year include the cancellation of all field trips through the start of the school year, daily temperature checks and advanced cleaning practices. For the first nine days of the new school year, Bourbeau said students will come in for abbreviated days to allow the teams to discuss how things are going and so extra cleaning can be done.

“We’re trying to manage this and keep the kids in school as much as possible,” she said.