Parents of children with special needs weigh risk of COVID-19, lapse in structure during pandemic

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — Online learning has become the new norm. It’s challenging for many students, especially younger kids in elementary and middle school. But parents say the kids really struggling the most are students with special needs who rely on school for their therapy.

The Greenbaum family in Florida has three sons on the autism spectrum: Joe, Isaac and Sammy.

“Except for my backyard and our car, my children have not left our property since Mid-March,” said parent Laura Greenbaum.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, their Palm Beach County schools have been entirely online.

The Greenbaums do what they can in a makeshift classroom in their house, but no in-person school has been devastating for their kids’ education.

“In the last five months, any skills that we have learned over the last six or seven years are completely extinguished,” said Laura.

“They cannot comprehend, most of them, what is being taught online. They cannot comprehend what is happening,” said Andrew Greenbaum.

Parents across the country that have children with special needs are dealing with similar issues.

Lucas Greene, 7, in Tennessee has a rare genetic disorder called Cardiofaciocutaneous (CFC) Syndrome and his mom says he has regressed because he’s missed so much school.

“We lost everything. We lost all of his structure he gets through kids and school and therapy. And kids crave structure,” said Lucas’ mother Sara Greene.

In Michigan, Taya Cook, and 11-year-old who is visually impaired is also struggling.

“My daughter for example, gets PT for physical therapy, occupational therapy, she sees a visual consultant. There is just so much more than the writing, the arithmetic, the reading these kids get,” said Kristen Cook, Taya’s mother.

While some parents of children with special needs are anxious for them to get back in the classroom, there is another side to this issue: The special education teachers. Many of them also want to get back to work but have concerns because of the pandemic.

“Every teacher fights with all the germs no matter where you are. And my kids can’t cover their mouths or catch a sneeze. So we are even more at risk of things flying through the air,” said Ann Post, a special education teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“Our students cannot wear PPE. They cannot wear a mask because they cannot physically take them off themselves,” she explained.

The Greenbaums say they understand special education teachers’ concerns, but say parents and educators should have the option of going back to school.

“In my opinion for my child, the detriment to him is greater than the risk for him. I, as the parent, should be able to make that distinction,” said Laura Greenbaum. “And if there is a teacher that wants to…yes, wear a mask, wear gloves when you touch my child. In my opinion it can be done safely.”


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