Kansas schools for deaf, blind hoping to keep classes in person as much as possible

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – The Kansas State Schools for the Deaf and Blind said Wednesday online learning isn’t the most effective option for students.

“If you have a group that’s 30 and you have to do the six feet, six feet, six feet, the farther back you get, the smaller my hands become,” said Molly Rothwell, the head teacher at elementary side of the Kansas School for the Deaf.

She also said masks will pose a challenge because much of sign language is communicated with the mouth.

Leaders from both the school for the deaf and the school for the blind presented reopening plans to the Kansas State Board of Education on Wednesday.

The Kansas State School for the Blind said it’s also facing challenges.

“Our kids, many times need and prefer routines and consistency,” said Jon Harding, the superintendent of the school. “Some of our kids need physical contact to make sense of the world, so for the kids who have more significant disabilities, that’s even more important.”

So the schools are changing up what classrooms will look like this year to lessen the chances of an outbreak.

“We won’t do as much large group gathering, but students understand how to use their cane, how to space themselves from each other, and understand how to wear a mask. This is really teaching kids how to be responsible, how to be responsible citizens and how to be considerate of others,” Hardin said.

At the school for the deaf, educators said they noticed a regression in students when they switched to online learning in March.

“I’ve got five and six-year-olds, they can’t memorize a password yet, so just that immediately created a barrier,” Rothwell said. “Even the attention span of young kids was difficult.”

Rothwell said the less the students used sign language, the harder it was for them to get better at the language.

So this year the school will take extra precautions to stay in-person, but teachers will also prepare if they have to go online again by taking time out of the week to practice while in school.

“[Teachers] will be sitting at their desks, kids will be at their desks to try and train that process and be there to troubleshoot immediately,” Rothwell said.

Both schools will start in-person classes on September 9, though the school for the blind will begin remote classes to begin its year two weeks before that.

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