In March, when COVID-19 shut down public school systems, the Alexandria City Public Schools district in Virginia told Denise Warburton—along with every other parent—that her son Max, who has special needs, would have to adapt to a virtual-only learning environment.
Nearly a year later, Warburton has reached her breaking point. For Max, a senior in high school who has Asperger’s and is on the autism spectrum, learning online has been impossible.
“My son’s case manager must text me multiple times a day telling me he’s not in a Zoom call or he’s 20 minutes late to a Zoom call or he’s actually asleep on a Zoom call, and all I can think is, ‘I would be asleep on a Zoom call if I had to sit on Zoom calls from 8:30am to 3:00pm each day,’” Warburton told IWF.
“It’s a horrible scenario for them and it’s not fair. And it breaks my heart because I have to yell at him and tell him to stay awake and tell him to focus, and he can’t. He can’t.”
As a physical therapist for a large company that has continued treating patients in-person throughout the pandemic, Warburton needs to leave the house most days to perform her job duties. This means she has no choice but to leave Max alone as he attempts virtual learning. Meanwhile, her 15-year-old daughter is able to attend her private school in-person. (Warburton used to enroll her son in private school, but the school ironically told her that the public school was better equipped to meet his special needs.)
“I am depressed and angry every day seeing this dichotomy between the two systems,” Warburton said. “I watch my daughter get to go to school two or three times a week, leave the house, while my son who is in the public school sits at home isolated from 8:30 to 3:00 each day on six Zoom calls by himself.”
Warburton is far from alone in her frustrations as a parent of a child with special needs. As my colleague Julie Gunlock noted, public schools in Northern Virginia have ignored science and abandoned special needs children who cannot learn in a virtual setting.
“Federal law requires public schools to accommodate these students. Yet the necessary accommodations that help these students learn and that normally take place in-person are not being provided,” Gunlock wrote, adding:
“Even when special needs parents publicly shared their children’s struggles with online learning, [the Alexandria City public school system] was unmoved, repeating the line that they were following ‘the CDC’s guidance,’ long after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began urging schools to offer in-person learning in some capacity.”
Facing pressure to break with the teacher’s unions and demands that public schools reopen, President Joe Biden promised this week that a majority of elementary schools will be open five days a week by the end of his first 100 days in office. Yet that promise fails to live up to his campaign pledge in December to reopen “the majority of our schools” in his first 100 days. Nor does it bring Warburton, whose son is in high school, any relief.
“There is a huge disparity between the two systems,” she said of her son’s experience in public school versus her daughter’s in private. “The private schools have figured out how to get students back academically, socially, and athletically; and public schools have not.”
When asked by Fox News’ Martha MacCallum what remote learning has been like for him, Max said, “Life at home has been terrible; I have to do Zoom calls along with my barking dogs.”
“I would really want to go back to school so I can meet someone in-person and have some fun lunches at school,” he added.