BOSTON — School districts across the state are working to provide access to educational tools for students, but parents of children with disabilities say local districts are not required to provide special education resources when schools are closed.
For students in Massachusetts, going back to school won’t be a reality so soon. On Wednesday, Governor Charlie Baker announced schools and non-essential emergency childcare programs would be closed through April. The earliest they would be allowed to reopen would be during the first week of May.
Aliyya Sandberry, whose 7-year-old Lilly has autism, says keeping her daughter inside and away from school has been a challenge.
“It’s tough, she’s sensory seeking, she touches everything and I just try to keep in mind that I need to have patience with her,” said Sandberry. “She’s still learning, she’s still young.”
Lilly attends a private school for kids with disabilities that has been providing home visits for the time being, but Sandberry doesn’t know if that could eventually change as the current coronavirus climate shifts everyday.
Sandberry has been in contact with dozens of public school parents who have been struggling to get the resources remotely and says there’s been a breakdown in communication with Boston Public Schools since schools are closed.
“I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like to have services stop,” said Sandberry.
According to the state, districts aren’t required to provide alternative access to educational resources in the event that school is out due to a natural disaster or health emergency.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is also strongly advising districts to plan for how to best provide alternative access to educational resources.
For students in Boston, the DESE says educators contact students weekly over the phone or Google classroom. The Office of Special Education is currently conducting multilingual outreach to students, offering door-to-door transportation for meals and are delivering equipment including assisted technology devices to homes.
“There’s a memorandum of agreement with the district because special education is in complete disarray and that’s a quote from the report,” said Edith Brazile, the President of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts and the state’s NAACP Education Co-Chair.
Brazile says children with disabilities are already at a further disadvantage than neurotypical and able-bodied students and are now also trying to cope with a crisis. A state audit released in March found BPS have contributed to a pattern of inequitable access to learning opportunities for students with disabilities.
“[We’re] partnering with higher education and other institutions who are well-versed on online distance learning, [but] the support must be there for our students,” said Brazile. “This is an entitlement.”
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