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Virtual-only semester brings added challenges for parents of special education students

As the start of fall semester gets closer, some parents of special education students say in-person learning is a crucial option to have.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — With the start of school in the DMV moving closer, parents of special education students continue to face plenty of uncertainty and questions about how lessons will be conducted and if their child will be allowed to return to the classroom.

Several districts around the region have announced virtual plans for the fall semester of the 2020-21 academic year. 

While the changes in learning have provided challenges for everyone associated with schools, from staff and teachers to children and families, some parents of special education students say in-person learning is significant for their child's development.

"The feeling in SEPTA (Special Education PTA) is as diverse as the kids needs are," said Fairfax County SEPTA President Michelle Cades. "Some families really want and need to go in-person. Some families absolutely can’t because of health concerns.”

Cades has two children who are special education students in Fairfax County.

On Sunday, she told WUSA9 that she chose to keep them at home for the fall semester to virtually learn due to health reasons.

However, for other parents, she said in-person learning would be a crucial option.

"There are parents whose kids need constant adult supervision and constant adult support," Cades said. "When you have a really Intensive need kid and you need to be constantly watching what’s going on or being helpful with them, that’s it. You’re not getting anything else done.” 

With in-person learning potentially not being an option in the fall, the SEPTA president said some families were considering big decisions.

The CDC released guidance for parents, teachers and administrators when considering whether to open and have students attend amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released resources for parents, teachers and schools Thursday as they consider whether to reopen this fall and whether children should go back amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I definitely know parents who are either about to quit jobs or had to quit jobs --especially because of their child’s needs," Cades said. "Parents are having to leave work in order to be home full-time with their kids.”

Exact details of special education learning remain unknown or undetermined in parts of the region.

If parents are forced to keep their children away from the classroom later this year, Parents' Place of Maryland Executive Director Rene Averitt-Sanzone said it would be even more important for them to work with the school district. 

"We really have to keep those lines of communication open," said Averitt-Sanzone, whose group offers educational guidance and information to families. "If something is working then a family has to say that to the teacher or therapist. But if it didn’t work, they also have to say it doesn’t work.” 

Moving forward, Cades hoped parents would get more clarity and information before the fall semester begins.

"Part of it is just 'wait and see,'" she said. "There’s only so much that we can do.” 

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