SOUTHLAKE, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – A Southlake mother says her special needs son and others like him are being left behind by the school district. Now she’s fighting to get him the services he needs.
PJ, who is 10 years old, is legally blind and has motor and speech delays. Before the pandemic he would spend half the school day getting physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and other services.
But when schools transitioned to online learning, Jennifer Schutter says her son’s assignments didn’t address any of that. “PJ received a link to several websites.. including YouTube videos on things like washing his hands,” she said.
Schutter says after she repeatedly asked the district for more specialized lessons, they sent out about 40 pages of worksheets that included practicing writing letters. It wasn’t until May, she says, that she received some assignments specific to PJ’s level. His teacher and therapists also began holding weekly video conferences with PJ’s class, but Schutter says it mostly consisted of playing the “Baby Shark” video and clips from “Sesame Street.”
Since March, PJ has missed out on hundreds of hours of therapy. The district may have to make up that time once in-person classes resume, but it will be up to school officials to decide how far behind he is. “My fear is that at the end of all of this, the district will determine that he has not regressed at all,” said Schutter, “and all of those services will be lost.”
If PJ is found to have regressed, the district will provide him with compensatory services. Kym Rogers with Disability Rights Texas says the hours can be crucial to helping a child catch up. “The purposes of the compensatory services is that the child be where they would have been if they had been receiving services all along,” she said.
Rogers says a lot of families are facing the same issue. They face a summer without in-person instruction or therapy, relying on whatever services they can get until an in-person evaluation can be done. “Some schools have really gone above and beyond in providing services,” said Rogers. “Some have been less willing to explore what the available options are.”
Carroll ISD is offering summer school for students, but only online. Schutter says that means little to the students who are most at-risk. “Our kids deserve better. They need advocates, they deserve advocacy.. they deserve a chance to succeed,” she said.
Schutter plans to address the school board at its June 15 meeting, in hopes of convincing trustees to allow some in-person therapy programs.
Carroll ISD sent CBS 11 News this statement:
“We are aware of the parent’s concerns. Because of student confidentiality and CISD’s desire to work with the parent using our standard ARD and grievance procedures, I won’t be able to sit down and do an interview, but I can issue you the statements below related to our district’s COVID-19 response.
Carroll ISD has been, and continues to be, extremely concerned about the health and safety of our students during this time of emergency closures due to COVID-19. Our goal has been to ensure that our decisions help prevent the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. We believe the measures taken by leaders in the state of Texas have worked. The decisions made by CISD leaders continue to take local context into account.
As you know we pivoted to remote online learning in late March, and we have had no in-person instructional services for any students as we comply with guidelines set forth by the Governor and the Texas Education Agency. The guidelines and recommendations have been changing on us almost daily. Like other districts in our area, CISD made a decision in early May to go to virtual instruction for summer school for all our qualifying students, both with and without disabilities. Our virtual summer school started June 2. TEA just released new guidelines for summer school June 9, well after our program started.
The new June 9 guidance from TEA still limits the number of students that can be in a room. It also strongly encourages significant measures to ensure the district is preventing the spread of COVID-19. CISD’s decisions have all been in compliance with TEA’s guidance. It will take some time to prepare for compliance with TEA’s guidance on face-to-face academic instruction, including time to provide the required training. Further, TEA suggests that, when feasible and appropriate, it is better for students to gather outside rather than inside. Taking TEA’s guidance into consideration along with the Texas heat in June, July and August, CISD believes that its decisions have been, and continue to be, in the best interest of all of our students. CISD also continues to make decisions designed to protect students who are medically at-risk as recommended by TEA.
Our district is making plans to resume in-person instruction for all students in August. We are also studying an option for virtual learning in case we have a resurgence of the virus that causes additional facility closures. A third option being studied is for a hybrid of the two.”
In a second statement provided on Sunday, the district said:
“The challenges of the COVID-19 emergency closures were felt by many educators and parents across the state, including those working with our students with disabilities. The Texas Education Agency provided guidance, and Carroll ISD educators followed that guidance in serving students, and our staff worked hard to ensure parents had access to resources during the closure.
CISD provided lesson plans that were emailed weekly to parents. We also emailed parents a Continuity Plan in March, including an offer of an ARD Committee meeting. An ESY Continuity Plan was also emailed in late May. Overall, more than 700 Continuity Plans were individualized and communicated to parents by CISD special programs staff during our closure.”