Special Ed Parents: Remote School Fails | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

While Qualina Cooper’s 11-year-old Dakarai dived into remote classes this fall, her 12-year-old Jayvyn struggled to understand why he needed to sit behind a computer screen.

Jayvyn has autism. He and other special needs students were among those who lost out the most when the Covid-19 pandemic began and schools buildings closed — and their parents worry they’re losing out again as remote learning resumes.

“My children matter,” Cooper said. “I feel [in-person instruction] is vital, and we’re being ignored. We’re playing the waiting game.”

The complete mismatch of remote learning for Jayvyn’s needs has Cooper ready to leave New Haven schools altogether, as New Haven Public Schools launched this academic year with at least ten weeks of all-remote learning.

Other special education families report varying results with New Haven’s remote classes based on factors like diagnosis and childcare availability.

New Haven Public Schools has acknowledged to the state that special education students, particularly nonverbal students with autism, can be nearly impossible to teach remotely.

District administrators are presenting more information on their special education plans at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. They declined comment until after that presentation.

A Frustrating Spring

Nijija-Ife Waters, president of City Wide Parent Team, has been pushing for more details on how New Haven schools will educate students with special needs in both virtual and in-person settings for months.

Her fifth-grade son, Amadi, attends East Rock Community Magnet School. He has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a reading disability.

Waters said that the amount of work Amadi was assigned after remote classes began in the spring was too much for him to handle. The workload meant that she was spending too much time helping him and too little time on her own remote job.

“I sent a couple of emails requesting tailored work. I said that he really needs to be independent. I can assist but not be fully hands on. It is beginning to affect my work,” Waters said.

The district responded by sending Amadi printed packets of work, some of which he had already done, Waters said. Waters said that she wanted simpler work for Amadi, like multiple choice questions. Both she and her son became frustrated at the lack of tailoring.

“I think we stopped in May. The only thing we were doing was reading. We would do the special education piece of it,” Waters said, plus science class assignments that involved videos, current events and multiple choice.

For Nicole Beverley, her daughter’s special education needs were less acute this spring than the housing troubles the family faced.

Beverley has for years been a social worker. She found herself in need of that expertise last year. She said that she has become chronically ill, and despite administering a variety of tests, doctors have been unable to diagnose what is giving her headaches, fits of coughing and difficulty breathing.

The illness made it hard for Beverley to work, and her unstable income made affordable housing hard to come by. The family stayed with friends for a while, then moved into one of the individual rooms for families at the Beth-El Shelter in Milford.

Beverley said that her family’s time in the shelter should have been short-lived. But with the Covid-19 pandemic raging, it took her seven months to get a rental assistance voucher and move the family into a home.

The shelter checked a lot of the boxes Beverley knew to look for from case managing. It was family-oriented and supportive in helping residents find work and housing.

It was not an ideal remote school environment, though. Beverley said that the unstable internet connection kept getting in the way of her daughter’s work.

“My daughter would be almost done and then the connection would drop. It would take so long to do the assignment and then the program didn’t save it,” Beverley said.

“He Didn’t Last Ten Minutes”

Beverley’s family has just moved into a new place and rushed to sign up for a Comcast internet package as school starts.

She’s not sure yet what her seventh grader, Natima, is getting from her IEP in a remote setting. She said she wants more communication from Edgewood School about what her daughter needs and what interventions they are implementing to get her up to speed in math, reading and writing.

Beverley said that she knows of a senior in high school who was unable to read or write.

“I don’t want her to be passed along on the idea that she is in special education,” Beverley said.

She said that her daughter’s learning differences make her feel sad or stupid.

“I want to know as a parent how to help train her brain. I don’t know how to fully help her the correct way,” Beverley said.

On the other hand, Cooper is fully trained in what Jayvyn needs. She still does not see it happening through video.

Cooper was planning to become a lawyer until Jayvyn was diagnosed with autism. He was 2, and she was 25. She decided to switch careers and now provides Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, one of the key interventions for autism, at ACES’ Village School in North Haven.

Cooper said that Jayvyn tried live classes over the summer. The instruction by video did not work for him.

“He did not adhere to it at all. He had a very difficult time understanding why he had to sit in front of a computer,” Cooper said.

Similarly, Cooper was able to stay home while sick last week and saw Jayvyn continue to struggle with his fall classes at Brennan-Rogers Magnet School.

“Jayvyn did not last 10 minutes,” Cooper said. “There were too many distractions on the screen for him to focus. He kept saying, ’School tomorrow?’ He cried and became frustrated with the whole process.”

Cooper is now switching from remote work back to in-person instruction at ACES. She is worried that Jayvyn will distract his younger brother when she is not there.

Cooper said that she loves Jayvyn’s teacher and knows that everyone at NHPS is doing their best with a difficult situation.

A Learning Hub For Special Needs Students

Cooper has the qualifications to dream of an alternative to remote learning for her son —  a learning center just for students with autism and other special needs.

Jayvyn loves reading, typing and hugs. He sings and dances to pop songs by Katy Perry and Bruno Mars. He is verbal and has also learned sign language.

“He’s academically there. I believe he’s academically successful,” Cooper said.

What Jayvyn needs is routine and one instructor focused entirely on him — and not through a computer screen, said Cooper.

“You can’t do math with a student who has a disability. They need materials in front of them to count. They need objects so they can sort colors or sort numbers. I had all of those. I know a lot of parents did not,” Cooper said.

Cooper started an organization, Jayvyn’s Journey, in 2018 to help other families looking for academic support and therapy for their child with autism. The learning center is the next part of her dream.

Cooper already has experience taking extra precautions, from personal protective equipment to constant cleaning of surfaces, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 between students and staff at ACES. She also already has 10 to 12 families interested in the idea. Her biggest hurdle is finding a space and getting grants and donations, she said.

“It’s becoming common in Black and Hispanic communities. A lot more children are being diagnosed with autism. We have to outsource to get the resources we need, instead of being able to call one center our home,” Cooper said.

Those interested in Cooper’s idea can email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

The idea is not a cure-all for all families. Waters has already decided to keep Amadi home even when New Haven Public Schools reopens for in-person classes.

Amadi has a hard time keeping a face mask on for more than 15 minutes and has life-threatening allergies that could make eating in the classroom with his peers a risk, she said. She wants him to have remote classes that he can chug through on his own at home while she works.

“I can find another job,” Waters said. “I can’t make another Amadi.”

Tags: COVID-19, special education, Autism, Nijija-Ife Waters, Qualina Cooper, Nicole Beverley, New Haven Public Schools

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posted by: Heather C. on September 11, 2020  3:15pm

School systems need to prioritize special needs, learning disabled and younger students K-6 for in person lessons and smaller classrooms. The remote learning model doesn’t work for some students and if the schools developed the hybrid in person lessons for some days and remote lessons for other days for students in grades 7-12 who can successfully learn remotely, then this should help the schools focus on the children who need the extra help with 6 feet apart desks and smaller student to teacher ratios.

posted by: NHPS family on September 11, 2020  3:19pm

This breaks my heart. These children deserve so much more than what they are getting from NHPS. These mothers have all gone above and beyond within limited resources. Can we now stop with the “we aren’t babysitters” response from the unsupportive teacher contingent?

Shame on the BOE. Do better.

posted by: owen@large on September 11, 2020  5:28pm

The BOE worries about everything but those things that really matter. Remote learning will never work for those moderately to severely disabled NH special students. The BOE vows to energetically fight the Feds who threaten to withhold money because of OCR issues but seemingly has no interest or energy or a plan to properly educate those students who are often the most discriminated against regarding proper, essential educational/social services. They had six months to put a non-remote plan together to work with this population. Once again they have failed miserably. For this gross dereliction of duty, OCR should be called.

posted by: NHIreader on September 11, 2020  7:13pm

No matter what, a REMOTE plan for SPED needs to be put in place.  When we have a 2nd shutdown state-wide, we will not be able to have “hubs” even or meet in person.  So regardless of what people prefer, we need to find an effective and operational method to meet children at home.  Unless we stop having pandemics, we need a solid plan.

posted by: tmctague on September 11, 2020  7:33pm

This article is fueling a fire that doesn’t need any fuel.

posted by: TryingToRemainAnonymous on September 11, 2020  7:45pm

What I really wish is that we acknowledge that academic learning may come later for some people. That sometimes what kids need to learn is how to be caring and giving and responsible and patient and joyful. I’m not an elementary teacher, nor a special education teacher…but if I were these kids’ teachers I’d give daily assignments related to these characteristics. I know that it would be difficult….trying to NOT feel like I was encroaching upon the child’s parent…but assignments like “Brush your teeth,” and “Pick up your room” and “Fold your clothes and put them away” and “Draw a picture to give to someone later in the day” …. Life skills.

Too many times I feel as if some teachers put unnecessary academic burdens upon kids who can’t do it right now at this point in your life….and not enough emphasis on life skills…on how to be a good human being and a good citizen. Writing a letter and sending it is MORE important than having a kid write a letter, mark all the mistakes, grade it, and give it back to the kid and it goes no where.

If I were remote teaching these kids, I’d make sure that they had fun games to play that teach lessons.

There’s a reason why Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street work….

posted by: Somewhere In New Haven on September 11, 2020  7:48pm

@NHPS Family, you are so right saying……. “can we STOP with the “we aren’t babysitters”!!!!  No one is looking for babysitters, we’re looking for certified educators to (help) teach our children while most parents go earn a living to support the household.  Shame on anyone that think teachers are babysitters. Teaching is their profession of choice.  And BTW, probably more then not, MOST of the educators working in our school system don’t live in New Haven.  More then likely they live in an area where their own children are having in-person schoolIng.  Leaving New Haven students to suffer miserably.

posted by: 1644 on September 11, 2020  8:14pm

Yes, there are some serious IDEA violations, here, and no plan to address them.

posted by: NHTeacherPE on September 11, 2020  9:19pm

Why would teachers live in New Haven ? The property taxes are through the roof.  Let’s stop this you must live in the district to understand what is going on.  The same with police and fire.  Why would anyone want to own property in a district where the mill rate is 9th in the state at around 43 points.  No thank you

posted by: beaverhills on September 11, 2020  9:30pm

Thank you so much for this article Emily and to all the families who shared their experiences!

@tmctague, I don’t agree. I have posted on numerous articles on here and written to the BOE to share my concern about the students being left behind in remote learning, but almost all of the articles have not shown this perspective. The voices of concerned teachers and parents who are in favor of distance learning have been much louder at BOE meetings and in the articles touting how well everything is going so far. Even if it goes well for the majority of kids, there is still an obligation to meet the needs of the kids who remote learning can’t work for. I fear that the BOE is trying to move on and say everything is working when it’s not. There are many teachers and families who want schools to reopen and who recognize that it is possible to do so while minimizing risk.

I also agree with NHIreader that we do need a better remote plan for special education even if schools are able to open in person, so that we can put it in place in the event of a second wave. For now though, we need to prioritize opening schools for students with special needs, young children, and English language learners at the very least.

posted by: AreaPerson on September 11, 2020  10:55pm

I am relieved that someone has finally addressed another elephant in the room: the fact that so many city employees don’t live in the city—or, as this very publication wrote in 2010: “Nearly 80 percent of New Haven police and teachers union members live outside the city. For firefighters and school administrators, the figure is around 70 percent.”*  I can’t help but wonder how these employees would feel about keeping schools closed if their own kids went there.

@NHTeacherPE asks why anyone would live in a city with such a high mill rate. But I think a much better question is, why should city workers who reside outside New Haven care at all about the fiscal health of the city?  This is a bit of a zero-sum game when you think of it: either the unions agree to make concessions, or the captive audience that is property owners pay more taxes (many of whom pass on the bill to their minimum-wage earning tenants). 

I often think that what this city needs is something like a left-wing tea party, where we forget about the dogmas for a moment and look at where, i.e. to whom, the city budget is actually going. I don’t think the unions would like it.  By the way, here’s some free revenue advice: tolls for commuters who live outside city limits.  The bigger your car, the bigger the fee. 

*https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/most_city_union_workers_live_out_of_town/

posted by: beaverhills on September 12, 2020  7:00am

@NHTeacherPE, have you ever actually looked into New Haven real estate? Outside of the most “desirable” neighborhoods, you will find property values, assessments, and taxes are lower than for equivalent housing stock in surrounding towns. I live in a wonderful diverse middle class neighborhood where I can easily bike around town. I have a great house and backyard for my kids and friendly neighbor kids for them to play with. I would pay the same or more in taxes for a comparable house in another town (and my mortgage would be higher on top of that).

The reason that the property values are lower is because people (mostly white people) do not want to send their children to New Haven Public Schools. If teachers and other middle class professionals stayed in New Haven, housing prices would probably go up, but then the mill rate would drop as they tax base increased. At the same time, suburban towns need to invest in more affordable housing. If teachers are really committed to structural change (and kudos to the teachers who are already doing this), that would think more seriously about living in the community where they teach and sending their kids to the schools in that community.

posted by: New Haven Resident 100 on September 12, 2020  12:23pm

The BOE and the teachers that have advocated for distant learning should be ashamed of themselves.  It’s frustrating to live in a city where the decision makers put little effort into the education of our children.  In my children’s school the same teachers that advocated to not reopen schools are identified by parents of special needs children as the teacher you don’t want your child to have.  Parents will actually talk with the principal and special ed teacher and beg them to not place their child in that teachers class.

posted by: speakingthetruth33 on September 13, 2020  8:33am

@beaverhills I wouldn’t choose to live in New Haven hartford bridgeport in a million years.  way too many murders, crime, gangs , drugs, run down buildings, filth et.  I’ll happily choose to live in say old lyme where I can sleep easy at night and have a couple of acres of land. it’s a no brainer.

posted by: justchecking on September 13, 2020  10:18am

It is hard to be positive in the face of this crisis.  I have come to not trust the BOE for the meddling and poor decisions of the past.  This is not their fault because I knew they were always going to make the wrong decision.  It would be up to us, the public, to sway them in the right direction.  Dr. Tracey tried to help all of our children by reopening safely and had a plan in place.  The rest of the state has opened and the incidents are few.  I feel as though the blame for these children not being served and the 2500 students not logging in falls squarely on the New Haven Public Schools Advocates.  I thought they were the adults in the room when it came to issues on education and equity.  They sided with teachers who were scared and unwilling to take on the risk and responsibility of doing their duty.  The advocates sided with the privilege of having most of their children not be extremely harmed by the pandemic.  They did not side with the most vulnerable children in the city.  The ones who are the most at risk. I have supported the advocates in the past.  Gone to BOE meetings with them to advocate policies that I feel benefit everyone, but they have made their priorities clear.  They will side with cautious teachers, many of whom do not live in the city, who have put their own comfort with risk over the basic needs of thousands of children.  I am a front line worker who has not stopped working throughout the pandemic despite not having adequate PPE, proper ventilation, or even the science that we now know.  We figured it out because we were essential.  It is time for NHPS to figure it out and get back to work.

posted by: birchtree on September 13, 2020  1:06pm

@justchecking- I 100% agree with you. I am a teacher and I am heartbroken looking at 24 little squares everyday as they ask me when they can come back to school. I am a good teacher and I am not meeting the needs of my students. I cannot see their screens, I cannot troubleshoot effectively when they need help, and I cannot give them the emotional and academic support they need from behind my screen. I am working round the clock, making home visits, and I still feel ineffective every day.

I also supported the NHPS Advocates and I will not anymore. They got this one really wrong and their privilege could not be more evident.

posted by: DMH464 on September 13, 2020  2:14pm

I am am essential worker that has worked a normal work weeK since the beginning of this BS, with minimal social distancing and PPE and I have only known ONE person to contract Covid, an elderly person that is medically compromised.

It’s time to cut the BS and get these teachers back to work because regardless of the type of student this distant leading is trash especially for special needs students.

You have been out of work for 6 months and I should not have to pay taxes for those teachers that want to phone it in.

posted by: PlayingWithNumbers on September 13, 2020  4:52pm

DMH464 – we have been out of work for 6 months?  REALLY?  Im leaving it at that.

To all the people slamming the BOE – they were going based on what was actually happening within the schools. The so-called disinfecting did not happen in all buildings.  If my classroom was disinfected, why were there still crumbs and broken crayon pieces on the floor?  If my room was disinfected, why were there mouse droppings? (There shouldn’t have been anything near or in my classroom to attract them). If my room was disinfected, why did the checklist show nothing happening since March? Where was the tape that was supposed to be sealing my door?  If my room was disinfected (and HVAC filters replaced), why were my hands turning black from touching the surfaces of my room? If my room was disinfected, why were there still food stains on chairs? Last year’s paper in the cubbies?

I could go on, but I think I made my point.  And I am just one teacher and this is just one classroom. I won’t even mention the other issues in the building.  Maybe it was all this type of feedback that the BOE was receiving from teachers/staff that influenced their vote.  And obviously, this isn’t info that teachers could just make up – anyone could have visited these schools/classrooms and see for themselves. 

And just so you know, I am a New Haven resident and have lived here all my life.

posted by: NHPS family on September 13, 2020  6:01pm

I also no longer support the New Haven Public School Advocates. Their name should be changed to New Haven Public School Teacher and Pro Union Advocates.
And yes, the remote learning is awful for all students. The chrome books are slow and don’t function correctly when attempting anything more than logging in to the classroom meet. Two of my kids are actually using their phones instead. Just another cost families are expected to pick up.
The truth is we should be back in person at all schools where possible. All other school districts are making us look like inept laughingstocks.

posted by: PlayingWithNumbers on September 13, 2020  8:52pm

NHPS family – maybe NHPS isn’t going to be the laughing stock – as schools are closing 1 by 1 for reported cases.

posted by: AreaPerson on September 13, 2020  8:57pm

The City of New Haven budget is more than $500M.  The budget line for New Haven Public Schools is $250M.  And even without the pandemic, the district is not doing well.  What exactly is going on?

posted by: 1644 on September 13, 2020  11:15pm

playing:  If your classroom was not cleaned, the BoE deserves to be slammed.  The buck stops with the BoE.  As others have said, they had 6 months to get ready.
BTW, if you have mouse droppings, I would be more concerned about Hanta virus than the Wuhan corona virus.

posted by: DMH464 on September 14, 2020  5:43am

@Playingwithnumbers

Yes, 6 months or was it longer and being a resident mean nothing, I don’t care when a teacher lives.

Sorry but you made no point as far as I’m concerned, if the NHBOE didn’t due it’s job in cleaning the school since closing in March then that is just part of the problem, along with those teachers that don’t want to return to work.

COVID is not going anywhere so you better learn to deal with it, are you going to close school every time someone tests positive?

posted by: NHPS family on September 14, 2020  6:33am

Playing with Numbers- schools around us are closing for a few days as positives cases pop up. Similar to snow day closures. That is the correct approach and vastly different from New Haven. I am sure you know this. Believe me, we are the laughingstock.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 14, 2020  9:39am

I will keep on saying this.Have the schools out side.

posted by: NHTeacherPE on September 14, 2020  10:33am

So according the the BOE agenda tonight there is a vote for a plan to have ELL and Special Education students back in the building.  I have no idea what it will be other than for everyone to tune in tonight for this vote.

posted by: Lion’sCub on September 14, 2020  12:28pm

Enough with the scapegoating teachers!  We have no power in how our district is managed.  We are told what we are doing, we are usually told it far later than it is possible to really pull it off well, and we are rarely provided what is necessary to create anything authentic.  Then we are scrutinized and relentlessly criticized for being lazy, ineffective, and not caring.  What a thankless job (that nonteachers aren’t willing to do, so what is the alternative).

Teachers are left to scramble to translate last minute decisions into something workable with a group of students.  We are pawns, but decision-makers.  Stop beating up on the only people keeping things running.  If you think it is bad WITH us working hard, keep pushing until
– there is a strike or
– teachers simply decide that the [frozen] pay, the projection and wrath of anyone with a complaint, and the total devastation of our mental and physical health is just not worth it and we bail.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, and we’ll leave you to yourselves to raise your own kids.

posted by: NHPS family on September 14, 2020  1:48pm

Lion’sCub-I know of no family that is looking to teachers to help them raise their children.
You are a civil servant that is paid by tax dollars to educate. You are supposed to educate in a building that was paid by tax dollars. School choice is getting a lot more support than it ever has in the past. You may want to pay attention.

posted by: Lion’sCub on September 14, 2020  2:22pm

@NHPS family: “I know of no family that is looking to teachers to help them raise their children.”

If you only knew what families have asked us to do for them!  As I tell students, just because you don’t have personal experience or awareness of the issue, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.  Plenty of cops say they don’t know any racists, and yet…

Complaining and attacking teachers because of what NHPS/BOE leadership chooses is just nonsense.
We are doing the best we can with what we’ve been given.

posted by: PlayingWithNumbers on September 14, 2020  2:42pm

DMH464 – another commenter made a comment about teachers not being from New Haven.  I just wanted to clarify that I am a resident, I pay taxes and I deserve to be in a safe and clean school building as do the students. 

And how is it the BOE’s fault that cleaning wasn’t done?  Maybe they were getting told the same stories as we were about all the safety measures that were completed and the PPE/cleaning supplies that were on hand.  Maybe they didn’t know because no one was allowed in some of the buildings until the last week in Aug/first week of September.

And no teacher said they didn’t want to return to work for the sake of not working; it’s because it wasn’t safe. I’m sorry, but my life or my students’ lives are not disposable. 

And if teachers really didn’t want to work because we are lazy or whatever other silly reasons people give, why would there be a push for remote learning? It is a lot more work and takes a lot more time than in person education.

posted by: ASD MOM on September 14, 2020  3:21pm

As a Mom with a child on the spectrum and suffers from asthma. We are doing our best to work with the teachers. Do they have it all together? NO but i will not risk the LIFE of my child by sending her to school under these circumstances. I know for a fact that the numbers are increasing daily because some towns open schools, football teams ect. Parents are not reporting test results to schools, sending children to day cares with positive results. How is this safe for ANYONE?




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