Fremont Union High School District recently implemented an independent study program that offers little information and even fewer accommodations for students in special education. FUHSD announced their plan to source a third-party platform, Edgenuity, for their ISP on July 20, 2021, just one month before the start of school, less than a month after a California State Assembly bill required an ISP option for all schools.
Edgenuity brands itself as an alternative to traditional in-person schooling. Its primary education method for high schoolers is asynchronous video lectures with teachers that are associated with Edgenuity, not a student’s local district. The program is intended for highly independent learners who do not need the scaffolding that students with disabilities, 504 plans or IEPs often require. Although Edgenuity offers paraeducators, its asynchronous resources are minimal. They offer embedded tools that provide read-aloud support; transcripts and captions for auditory material; and video lessons that “deliver direct instruction, orient students to lesson goals, and offer clear and concise explanations of subject matter” according to Edgenuity’s website. The services they provide do not provide accommodations for a variety of neural and mental disabilities.
Said FUHSD Superintendent Polly Bove, “We really need to articulate what [a special education student] is going to need in terms of support. […] Special education teachers […] will be working with those students, both 504 and IEP, to ensure it is working well. There’s going to be more communication […] between the Edgenuity teacher, special education teacher, and our own special ed kids. There will be lots of communication no matter what.”
Bove also said that Edgenuity performed well in a trial that compared it with other third-party services during the previous school year. Other local high schools have used Edgenuity with better results than the programs Cupertino High School has tried in the past. According to Cupertino High School Principal Kami Tomberlain, district administrators considered other online education platforms that they used on a small-scale basis prior to the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 school years.
“We have tried some other online platforms, mostly through Ed Ops, or for students who need to make up a D to be more college eligible, and have not been thrilled with the quality of instruction and the quality of the programs. I think there was some research done that people were having better luck with this program so that’s why we decided to go with it,” Tomberlain said.
She also raised concerns about how suitable Edgenuity — or any particularly asynchronous program — could be for a student with a disability.
Said Tomberlain, “[…] for the vast majority of our students with special needs, we would not be recommending an independent study program.”
The independent study program was partially created for immunocompromised students who cannot be at school in person — among them many students with disabilities — but it falls short in resources for special education students, as well as easily available information about the accommodations available.
This lack of information and accommodation compels students who require one-on-one guidance and support back to school regardless of their and their family’s health concerns. Ultimately, it is this lack of communication that is the independent study program’s greatest pitfall. Although Bove stated that there would be regular communication between Edgenuity’s special education teachers and the para educators in FUHSD, Tomberlain reported having little background knowledge.
“Everything I know, I learned in the webinar,” Tomberlain said.