Parents of children with special needs weighing their options on sending kids back to school

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Parents all around the Piedmont are torn.

Do they send their children with special needs back to the classroom? Or do they keep them at home, protected from COVID-19?

Many families are dependent on the services their children get at school, but some don’t want to risk their child’s health.

They’re now weighing their options, trying to figure out what’s best for their families when school restarts in less than a month.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do. I can’t eat if I have to watch him all the time,” Jennifer LaMonte-St.Louis said.

She’s at a loss.

Her son, Jarrett, goes to the Christine Joyner Greene Education Center in Jamestown.

“He was getting occupational therapy. He needs to be in a smaller classroom,” LaMonte-St.Louis said. “He’s considered nonverbal or pre-verbal, so he uses a lot of symbols and signs to say his needs and communicate.”

The coronavirus pandemic forced Jarrett to stay at home.

LaMonte-St.Louis told FOX8 virtual learning is not going well.

“He slams the computer and runs away. He will not do it,” she said.

While she waits for Guilford County school leaders to make a decision on how kids will go back to school in the fall, she’s trying to figure out her own family’s plan.

“We don’t have any place to put him. He’s too old to put into day care. We can’t afford hourly day care,” LaMonte-St.Louis said. “He doesn’t get enough respite dollars through the federal government to handle any of this. We’re on our own.”

She and her family are dependent on the services Jarrett gets through Guilford County Schools.

So is Cathy Gold and her daughter Lizzie, who goes to the Gateway Education Center in Greensboro.

After months of being at home, Gold has noticed that Lizzie is regressing.

“Some of her self-feeding skills, her ability to feed herself,” she said. “Some of her ability to push her wheelchair and her endurance walking. She walks with assistance, but for me, she just starts lifting her feet. Like, ‘OK, you can carry me.'”

The Golds have made some changes after they decided to keep Lizzie home from school in the fall.

“I’m lucky to have the flexibility in my work schedule that I was able to move things around and do more things when it’s nap time,” Gold said.

She’s worried about her daughter’s health.

“Most of the children at Gateway are of the most vulnerable populations. We’re all in the high-risk group,” said Gold.

But every family is different.

They’re all trying to figure out what they will do after district leaders make their own decision.

“There are just no ideal, easy answers. We just have to really balance keeping our children safe,” Gold said.

“I’m glad I’m not an administrator. I’m glad I’m not a superintendent,” LaMonte-St.Louis said. “There’s no right answer for everybody. But there’s got to be some give and take.”

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