Distance learning in the COVID-19 era has put a strain on all families, but especially those with children with special education needs.
“No one was ready. Obviously, we didn’t see this coming,” said Christina Schmidt, executive vice president of the Palo Alto Council of Parent Teacher Associations. And parents, she said, can be caught unaware of how much children with special needs require during the time they’re in school.
There are days during shelter-in-place when Angie Foster feels her head might explode. The Palo Alto mother of two quit her job in the energy industry in 2011 to care for her 10-year-old son Chase and 4-year-old daughter London. Chase is on the autism spectrum and has Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, a rare genetic condition that affects one in 2,500 children globally.
Chase spent his pre-pandemic school days in a mainstream fifth-grade classroom, and was pulled out for special electives throughout the day. And he was always accompanied by a one-on-one aide, provided by the school district, who helped him communicate with teachers, participate in the classroom and complete his assignments. It was part of his IEP, or Individualized Education Program, a legal requirement in the special education world.
But with distance learning orders in place throughout the Bay Area since mid-March, Chase has been left without an aide he requires, leaving the Fosters to weather a particularly difficult schooling process at home.