Stacey Whomsley’s two sons, ages 9 and 10, are in the 3rd and 5th grades respectively. Both of them have learning challenges that have exacerbated their struggle with virtual learning.

“Remote learning was very stressful for them,” Whomsley, from West Chester, PA, told IWF. “I have the privilege of working from home; I was able to be by their side every day, I was able to hire help; they were miserable. They do not like being behind a screen. It’s stressful, it’s not natural, and it isn’t suited to how they learn.”

Whomsley’s youngest son has a learning disability called speech apraxia that caused him to be mute until he was 4-years-old. For 18 months, he worked to become age-appropriate with his speech. Today, Whomsley said you would “never know” that he has a disability, “but it does affect his ability to learn, to read, to write.”

Her older son has sensory processing disorder. He currently has a special education plan to help navigate his disability.

Last fall, Whomsley pulled her oldest son from the West Chester Area School District after she said his school “basically abandoned” him. Her son was diagnosed with a concussion from an injury that happened on school grounds and, because of the concussion, he was unable to use screens, which made virtual learning impossible. At the time, the school district was doing hybrid in-person learning, allowing students on-campus two days each week.

Whomsley thought that, because her son had special needs and now also had limitations from a concussion, they would allow him to temporarily learn in-person for four days a week.

“Knowing this was a short-term situation, and a medically necessary one, we were shocked to be declined,” she said. When Whomsley asked what her son was supposed to do for the three days a week when classes are remote, “we were initially offered independent worksheets for him to do on his own. No teacher interaction. No student interaction. No formal time to meet daily and ask questions.”

“We said unacceptable,” she said, adding:

“They said we can excuse him from the trimester. We said unacceptable. It’s a foundational year—he’s getting ready for middle school. You don’t abandon him when he’s preparing for that.”

Now enrolled in a private school that’s open for in-person learning every day, Whomsley said her son is thriving.

“I’ve always thought he would benefit from smaller classrooms, as he is so sweet and easy going,” she said. At private school, her son is in a class of 15. In just two short months, he was able to bring all his grades back up to A’s.

Knowing what a difference in-person education makes, Whomsley took it upon herself to file for charter status so that other children can have the option to learn in-person.

“I’m sending my kid to private school; I can afford it,” she said. “I have the privilege to do that. And in addition to having a full-time job, supporting two special needs students, while also taking care of two elderly parents who have cancer these last few months, I have made it my mission to make education accessible to the children in my area. Even if I have to start small with 15.”

On Monday night, the West Chester Area School District denied Whomsley’s charter application. Moments after receiving that notification, Whomsley emailed to say her fight for more school choice wouldn’t stop.

“My candidacy for school board is official, as of tonight.”