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'It's Shameful': Parents Of Special Needs Students In Disbelief Over Boston Schools Remote Learning

BOSTON (CBS) - When Cristina and Michael Colanti got the news their daughters' schools would switch back to fully remote learning after only three weeks of a hybrid model, they were in shock.

"It's shameful this is where we're at right now," Michael said. Cristina Colanti told WBZ she spent the whole day crying once she got the news.

They have two daughters. Maia, age seven, has been learning remotely since March. Mae, age four, has Downs syndrome, and was allowed to return to school two days a week in the district-wide hybrid model as a "high needs" student. She was supposed to return to four days a week in person on Thursday, October 22.

Maia and Mae (WBZ-TV)

Wednesday morning, Mayor Marty Walsh announced that Boston schools would switch to all remote learning effective Thursday after the city saw a 5.7 percent COVID-19 positive rate. In the month of October, there have been 10 total positive COVID-19 cases among students and teachers in Boston Public Schools.

"It was a difficult decision because I was at the opening day of school on October 1," Mayor Walsh said in a Wednesday night school committee meeting. "We saw many students who are very happy to be back at school," Walsh said. "But the numbers made the decision straightforward."

The Colantis say remote learning means no learning for four-year-old Mae. They say Mae had improved drastically after only six days of in person learning. "It's insulting to us to continually listen to 'online remote learning,'" Michael told WBZ. "We don't log on, it doesn't work, these kids can't access it. Which means we are all failing...we have no faith that anything is going to improve."

Cristina Colanti
Michael and Cristina Colanti (WBZ-TV)

They say getting Mae to sit at a computer from 8 AM to 2 PM is nearly impossible.

Cristina worries that added time at home is critical development time without her services that Mae can never get back.

"I can't give her what she needs at home," Cristina said through tears. "She needs OT, she needs physical therapy, she needs other kids her age. That doesn't happen at home. I want to be able to give her everything she needs. And now the supports that we had that we fought so hard to get are being taken away."

Just last week, a court voted in favor of the district continuing in person learning after the Boston Teachers' Union fought the decision. The Colantis thought that decision solidified that at least one of their daughters - the one they feel needs in person services most - would be in school in person for the foreseeable future.

"It really seems like just endless lip service where we can't step up and do the right thing," Michael said. "I feel like this is one thing that should be non-negotiable. We're going to figure it out. We have to figure it out...and there's still nothing. There's no plan. And I can't read another statement from the school or the teacher's union or anybody that says [special needs students] are our highest concern when they've literally been kicked out of school again."

The Boston Teachers Union applauded the decision to go fully remote, but encouraged the district to work with teachers on a plan that will make school buildings safer and provide better PPE to allow those high need students to return to the classroom. "I think there's been this misunderstanding or false narrative that we wanted to go all remote and that's just not the case," BTU President Jessica Tang said. "We wanted a better safer plan and we needed to ensure that we have safe facilities, safe PPE and safe protocols."

Mayor Walsh said some students will be able to return to the classroom once the city sees a two week downward trend in COVID-19 cases. But as cases rise and we head into the winter months, the Colantis fear that day will never come, and their daughter will miss another year of school. "We have no faith that anything is going to improve moving forward," Michael said.

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