Parents of special-ed students ask for in-person instruction

Vernon. Parents say their children with special needs are struggling with remote learninf. But the superintendent says it will be ‘nearly impossible’ to find new service providers if the ones they have contract Covid.

Vernon /
08 Jan 2021 | 03:30

Several parents who attended Vernon’s Dec. 17 school board meeting pushed for a return to in-person instruction for special education students.

Leslie McBeth, president of the Special Education Parent Advisory’s Group, said the district’s special education students are struggling, especially “the self-contained population.”

“Our students need extra help to achieve success and prevent further loss of skills,” McBeth said. “We are asking for your help to prevent further slide.”

According to a report issued by Superintendent Karen D’Avino on Dec. 17, the district must address several important concerns before offering in-person instruction. If a service provider were to contract COVID-19, the district would have to find outside providers who could attend to an entire caseload of students — a “nearly impossible” task.

The report also said that, with school scheduled to reopen for in-person learning on Jan. 19, opening earlier for live instruction could produce increased exposure to COVID-19. An analysis shows that the self-contained special needs programs have been affected by COVID-19 at higher rates than other programs in the district, according to the report.

Reopening not guaranteed

McBeth said there is no guarantee the district will open by its Jan. 19 target date, and it must not put off “the immediate needs of the special education students.”

“The reality of the pandemic is that nothing is certain,” said Highland Lakes resident Charlene O’Brien. While all students are at risk of contracting COVID-19, she said, special education students “are more at risk for regression or slower recuperative skills.”

She agreed there is no guarantee the district will be able to return to in-person learning on Jan. 19. Private childcare centers have managed to remain open and provide care for the children of emergency personnel, she said.

Alicyn Guilfoyle, a speech and language pathologist for grades 6-12, had the opposite request.

“While I respect (the parents’) request, I think returning to in-person learning after Christmas vacation is perilous for my colleagues as well as students,” she said.

She said someone dies every 30 seconds of COVID-19 in the United States, and that she was concerned about non-symptomatic people who have not followed Centers for Disease Control guidelines infecting others at the school.

“I care about my students, but I also care about COVID-19 risks for colleagues,” she said. “On their behalf I am requesting the board’s support in letting us continue to administrate virtual learning and virtual teletherapy.”

“Our students need extra help to achieve success and prevent further loss of skills. We are asking for your help to prevent further slide.” Leslie McBeth