DESE may audit 3 school districts regarding in-person learning for students with disabilities

DESE may audit 3 school districts regarding in-person learning for students with disabilities

BOSTON — Massachusetts’s three largest school districts have 10 days to tell the state how they plan to get students with disabilities back in classrooms.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education sent letters to the school committees in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield asking for information about learning plans for the most vulnerable students in the state. The state says it’s “vital” to have in-person learning for students with disabilities.

“I would try to do the remote with him for five minutes, but he would slam the computer down and walk away he would not do it,” said Boston Public Schools mother Lisa Maloney.

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We first introduced you to her and her 5-year-old so Alex in August when Lisa at the time was begging her district for in-person learning saying: “He is autistic. He needs a lot of stimulation.”

But after Mayor Marty Walsh kept pushing that back, she made the tough decision to pull Alex out of Boston Public Schools and send him to an in-person private school.

“I just said, ‘I’ve had enough. This is not working, he’s falling behind,’” said Maloney.

But there are still hundreds and hundreds of students not getting the attention they need, and DESE is taking notice, sending letters out to the largest school districts saying figure out a plan and let us know what it is in the next 10 days.

“We are asking the question and trying to find out more information instead of immediately taking action,” said Russell Johnston, senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

But parents like Maloney wish they took immediate action or at least sent the letters sooner.

“It’s too late I mean they’ve had all this time,” she said.

“We look to give schools and districts the opportunity to begin the school year and to make their plans and implement their plans and we’ve kind of tracked closely the student experience,” said Johnston.

Alex’s new school is tracking his experience and mom says now that it’s in person, it’s getting better.

“Thankfully he is saying a few more words because he is nonverbal so the school has been a huge huge blessing for him,” she said. “I was getting very very worried because he was falling behind and I saw people, I emailed them and it’s like no one would listen.”

DESE wants all parents of children with disabilities to know it is listening, but DESE will also be listening to the three school districts. Depending on how they respond, DESE says these districts could face an audit.

Boston 25 reached out to each school district for comment. Boston Public Schools responded, saying in a statement:

The Boston Public Schools (BPS) firmly believes the best learning environment for our students is inside a classroom, learning from their teachers alongside their peers. BPS has convened a task force of BTU members, parents, students, and district staff to help guide our planning on a safe return to in-person learning for additional students who require instructional support as well as services that are best provided in person. Our focus remains on returning our very highest needs students to our school buildings, and we remain hopeful that in the future we will be able to restore in-person learning opportunities for even more students when it is safe to do so.

They also add this letter comes at a time when we are experiencing a significant uptick in COVID activity in the wake of Thanksgiving, and those numbers are making it hard for them to get back in school.

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