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Challenge: Back to School 2021

Why canceling school is so painful for families with disabled children

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A few weeks ago, I woke up my son Luke, who has multiple disabilities, and got him ready for school. He was excited and hollered, “GO TO SCHOOL! GO TO SCHOOL!” and I gave him juice and put his socks and shoes on, and we waited for the bus. We waited for a while and then I realized it was 15 minutes late. I called the bus barn and they said they weren’t sure what was going on but that they had received a notice from school the previous Friday that due to staffing shortages Luke’s class couldn’t attend school for the next eight days.

I said, “WHAT?! Why is this the first I’m hearing about this?”

It blew my mind.

I began to frantically text his teacher and called the school and no one really knew what was going on and finally, about 40 minutes later, I called back and they said, “We’re sorry, but we don’t have the staff for Luke to go to school.”

My mind was blown on so many levels because first, no one ever told me or prepared me and second, Luke lives for school. Once he had wrapped his mind around the fact that he was going to school, it was very difficult to change his mind. In fact, he was still sitting on the couch waiting for the bus to arrive at 10 a.m. He refused to let me remove his socks and shoes and continued to say, “GO TO SCHOOL,” and we continued trying to explain the situation to him.

In the meantime, my husband was canceling jobs for the next week, and I was wiping my schedule clean. I might as well throw my calendar in the trash because there isn’t staffing for my child with profound disabilities, and he can’t attend school.

We need school more than anyone for our kids. My other five children all went off to school, and Luke attends a specialized school for children with disabilities.

I was in shock and felt like I was having PTSD feelings as if we were going back into lockdown. I knew I wouldn’t survive that again. Luke had screamed for months because he couldn’t go to school due to COVID. Now he couldn’t attend due to staffing issues?

I was in shock and felt like I was having PTSD feelings as if we were going back into lockdown, and I knew I wouldn’t survive that again with Luke who screamed for months because he couldn’t go to school due to COVID, and now he couldn’t attend due to staffing issues?

RELATED: Kids with special needs are not OK right now. Neither are parents.

And the explanation I received was that his teacher was going to implement remote learning and let me tell you, Luke is not going to do remote learning. It’s so ridiculous. This is a child who is primarily non-verbal and his focus in school is life skills, PT, and OT – not learning on a computer. It’s entirely ridiculous and when he can’t attend school, he’s so confused and unsettled. He grabs me, grabs my hair, and leads me to the door repeatedly asking to go to school.

I could not believe that something like that could occur and even wondered if it was legal to shut down schools due to staffing issues? How is his IEP (Individualized Education Program) being accomplished without school? It’s not. That’s all there is to it. It’s not.

I have no idea how families like mine are supposed to do anything or make a living. When you basically take away our one form of respite – school – so that we can make money for our families, what are we supposed to do? On a whim you decide, “Oh by the way, there’s no school.” You can’t do that to families like mine. You just can’t.

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