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Parents Say Children With Special Needs Are Struggling With LAUSD's Online-Only Format

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Los Angeles Unified School District students went back to school for the start of the spring semester this week, but some parents of children with special needs say their children are struggling with the online-only format.

Olivia Baker
Olivia, 14, is one of many students with special needs who parents say are struggling with LAUSD's online-only format. (Photo: Sylvia Baker)

Silvia Baker, a single working mom of two LAUSD students, is one of those parents. She has two daughters in high school, one of whom has Rett syndrome and epilepsy.

"She needs 100% assistance in every aspect of her life," Baker said of her 14-year-old daughter Olivia.

Baker said that while both of her daughters are learning remotely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Olivia was really struggling.

"There's no connection for her," she said. "She sees her teacher, but there's no real connection."

Back in early December, Olivia was able to briefly go into her classroom for the first time in nine months. The ninth grader, who is nonverbal, was beaming in videos her mom took.

"As soon as we pulled into the driveway and she recognized where we were, she immediately lit up," Baker said.

But it's not just the connection that Olivia is missing. Baker said her daughter's district-provided therapies — physical, occupational and speech — have also stopped.

Though the state allows school districts to apply for waivers allowing TK-second grader and special needs students back in the classroom, LAUSD has not applied for one.

Katherine Collins, mom to a 7-year-old boy with autism, said she started the process for his individualized education program, or IEP, just four days before the shutdown last March.

She said when school started back up in August, the district was no longer responsive until she said she sent a strongly worded email.

"When someone finally called me, it was the [special education] coordinator, but he's in charge of three schools," she said. "How's that going to get everyone's needs met?"

She said she worries about the kids with families who do not know the law or do not have the time to hound the school district.

"The majority of people that LAUSD serves do not have my privilege," she said.

Both moms think special needs kids should be the first to return to the classroom, though they do not believe it is safe to do so currently as cases surge across the county.

"If my Olivia were to get sick with COVID, she might not make it," Baker said.

LAUSD said it has completed more than 30,000 virtual IEPs since the forced closure of schools last March and that more than 800 special needs students have received in-person tutoring. But there was no answer when asked if they had a timeline for students with special needs to return to the classroom.

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