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Some parents of special education students say return-to-school plans will leave their kids further behind

Fairfax County is hiring hundreds of "classroom monitors" so teachers can continue to work virtually from home. Some parents say that won't work.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — As schoolkids across the region trickle back into classrooms, some parents of children with special needs say the back-to-school plans are failing them. 

In Fairfax County, and many other districts, some teachers will continue teaching from home even after students return to school. Some parents fear that will leave their children even farther behind.

One Springfield mom whose second-grader has autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder said he's so frustrated with virtual learning, he smashed his computer screen. She asked us to withhold her name to protect her son's privacy.

Now he's returning to the classroom, but his special education teacher will be working from home. He'll be watched in the classroom by one of hundreds of classroom monitors Fairfax County has been hiring.

These classroom monitors are required to have a high school degree or GED -- not the years of training special education teachers have -- and are paid $15/hour. One mom compared the classroom monitors to babysitters.

"Fundamentally, they are charged with educating my son," Suzann Gallagher, another mother of a child with special needs, said. "They have a legal requirement that they need to meet. And I don't feel they are meeting it."

Gallagher's son is in fifth grade, has dyslexia and ADHD, and struggles with reading and writing. She also asked us not to use his name. 

He's going back to school two days a week on March 16, but his special education teacher won't be there either. 

"The special ed teacher often observes him in a regular class to see what he's struggling with and what he's doing well with and can pull him out if he needs assistance," Gallagher said.

RELATED: 'Distance learning is no learning for my daughter' | Fairfax mom will bring her daughter to school, even though classes are virtual

Eillen Chollett -- a special needs mom and advocate -- said some of these children have major medical needs. Some students require help eating or going to the bathroom, while others can't articulate what they want and need because of severe communication deficits. Chollet said these students need to have highly trained teachers physically with them, not just classroom monitors.

Virginia and Fairfax County have prioritized vaccinating teachers for coronavirus, in an effort to reopen schools, but some will continue to teach virtually under accommodations granted by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

WUSA9 reports about Chollet's 7-year-old daughter Caroline, and her struggle to get her back into the classroom, helped lead the U.S. Department of Education to open an investigation into whether Fairfax County is fulfilling its legal mandate to provide a free and appropriate education to all children.

RELATED: Department of Education launches civil rights investigation into Fairfax County Public Schools

The Education Department said last month that its Office for Civil Rights launched investigations of the Indiana Department of Education, Seattle Public Schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District and Fairfax County Public Schools.

Investigators are looking at “possible discrimination against students with disabilities by failing to provide them with a free, appropriate public education during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

WUSA9 is still waiting for a response from an FCPS spokeswoman.

RELATED: Students may return to class while their teachers stay home

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