BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — This week, Governor Gavin Newsom issued new guidelines to help children with special needs go back to the classroom. 23ABC's Tori Cooper spoke to the parent of a special needs student who has been struggling with distance learning on Thursday along with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.
Some parents told 23ABC that special needs students are the forgotten group due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eleven-year-old Lila Mathew is a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy and dystonia and her mother, Sarah Smart said for students like Lila distance learning is next to impossible.
According to Smart, her daughter relies on in-person instruction for a variety of reasons.
“So she has brain damage from birth,” Smart said. "They can’t you know get on a computer and expand their minds. They don’t go to school to learn math or history or science or whatever it is, like the main reason for her going to school is for social interaction or the speech therapy that she was getting on a weekly basis.”
Lila was also in the MOVE Program (Mobility Opportunities Via Education/Experience) at Sequoia Middle School, where staff would help her out of her chair and practice body movements daily to give her a break from her chair.
“You know school was what she lived for because it was something different than just being in the house all day.”
Smart said Lila’s teachers have been doing their best to help her over Zoom but it’s not the same. She said it’s also very difficult for her and makes things at home more tense.
However, in an effort to help parents like Smart, Governor Newsom released new cohort guidance this week for the specified subset of children like Lila. According to the California Department of Public Health, the new guidelines would allow for special needs students K-12 to head back to campus in small groups no larger than 14 students with no more than two supervising adults.
Staff would also be required to keep windows open and operate outside as much as possible and can work one-on-one with a student as long as the staff member is not working in the larger group setting.
According to the guidance, staff must also aim to stagger playground time to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and both students and staff would be required to wear a mask at all times.
The Kern County Superintendent of Schools confirmed that they are still looking into the new guidelines and when to possibly implement them.