FAIRFAX, Va. — When Fairfax County Schools reopen virtually Tuesday, it's likely to be a frustrating day for a lot of teachers, parents and students. But for the county's nearly 30,000 special ed students, it could be even more aggravating.
One Fairfax City mom says distance learning is no learning at all for her daughter.
Caroline Chollet, 7, is an endearing second grader "She can instantly charm anyone who encounters her," her mother, Eileen Chollet said. But a rare genetic condition has left Caroline dealing with more than her fair share of challenges.
"Speech delays, fine motor delays, motor coordination, sensory issues," her mother Eileen said.
In the spring, right after the pandemic hit, Fairfax schools agreed to an individual education plan for Caroline that would have had her in-school learning in-person.
But that's still not happening this school year, because the county is starting all classes, including special ed classes, virtually.
"It's not about my feelings. It's about my daughter's civil rights," Eileen said. "She has a federal right to free, appropriate education. And Fairfax County says we're just not going to respect that right. How am I supposed to react to that?"
A spokeswoman for Fairfax County Schools says it's aware of the situation there are limitations to what they can do during the pandemic.
“All of us want our students and teachers back in the classrooms as soon as it is safe to do so. FCPS, along with other districts in the region, is starting the school year virtually due to current health conditions and classroom staffing challenges," Spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said in a written statement. "Following the start of school, and using a phased-in approach, we expect to be able to start bringing small groups or cohorts of students – prioritizing our students receiving special education services - back into the school buildings."
FCPS said special education students will receive virtual instruction five days a week – four days of direct, face to face instruction, and one day where teachers will provide intervention for those students in need of additional supports, according to the statement.
But Fairfax County government is supporting paid child care for some general ed students inside school buildings. "If it's safe for general education to be in the building on September 8, why is it not safe for my daughter to be in the building?" Eileen asked.
Caroline's mom plans to take her to the elementary school door Tuesday, and demand she gets the in-school education she's been promised.
There are an estimated 6.7 million special education students in the U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos demanded at the start of the COVID crisis that school districts get creative to help them, and specifically declined to waive the federal law that they get a free, appropriate education.
Several other school districts have made special arrangements to bring them back to school in-person even if all general ed classes are virtual.