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'She needs help in every aspect of her daily routine' | Families of special needs students are struggling to educate their children amid closures

Distance learning is on for students in the DMV, but what about students with special needs? How will they receive the resources they need while school is closed?

WASHINGTON — The state of Virginia has decided to close down schools for the rest of the school year. Maryland schools are closed until at least April 24. In D.C., schools are closed until April 27.

That means distance learning for many students in the DMV. But what about students with special needs? How will they receive the critical resources they need while their schools are closed?

"We can’t just put students on a computer and say here you go. Here’s your distance learning, says Christie Mandeville, principal of St. Coletta of Greater Washington. 

St. Coletta is a public charter school as well as a private school in Southeast D.C. for students with special needs. 

"Most of [our students] require one-on-one support," Mandeville says. "So distance learning for us is not really the most effective way to give them instruction."  

RELATED: 'We felt abandoned by the system' | Virginia mom of girl with special needs struggled to get COVID-19 test

St. Coletta has a 3-to-1 student-teacher ratio. They use hands-on practical teaching methods that are tailored to each student.

Mandeville believes that is a challenge for teachers who aren't used to students with disabilities. 

"So making sure that we can provide those resources at home is taking a lot of creativity," she said.

Credit: wusa
Kate Lewis, 2nd grade student, St. Coletta of Greater Washington

Kate Lewis is a 2nd grader at St. Coletta.

Her dad, Josh Lewis, says that at St. Coletta, Kate "has a teacher, a one-on-one aide, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist and a physical therapist."

Lewis says his daughter has been diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome – which means she suffers from seizures and impaired intellectual development.

"She’s non-verbal, she has trouble feeding, she cannot dress herself," Lewis said. "She needs help in every aspect of her daily routine. She gets that at St. Coletta. At home, this is like a snow day that doesn’t end." 

Mr. Lewis and his wife work for the Environmental Protection Agency. They say finding ways to educate Kate at home has been a struggle. 

Credit: WUSA9

"We do not have it figured out yet," Lewis said. "The goal here is not to replicate what she gets at school, because my wife and I are not therapists, but we can talk to the therapists to try and make her days feel a little more like school." 

No two kids have the same home situation. While Kate’s family has access to the internet and outside help, principal Mandeville says some of Kate’s other classmates aren't so fortunate. WUSA9 previously interviewed a family from St. Coletta without internet access. You can find that story right here.

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