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Parents Of Immunocompromised Girl Say Long Island School District Refused Requests For Adequate Remote Option

MILLER PLACE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Are children who have medical issues getting the education they deserve during the pandemic? More and more families say no and are demanding their schools do more to include them with remote learning.

CBS2's Jessica Layton introduces us to a Long Island family who says they're getting pushback from their school as they fight for their daughter's safety.

With her bright smile and sequined sweatshirt, you may not be able to tell right away that 11-year-old Ava Cozenzo is a fighter.

"I went for my routine sonogram and the entire room filled with silence and I knew immediately something was wrong," said Ava's mom Danielle Cozenzo.

It was then they learned Ava would be born missing half of her heart. The rare and serious condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome continues to put the 6th grader at risk.

Danielle and her husband Chris vowed to give their little girl, who loves music and basketball, every shot to succeed. But they never dreamed one of the biggest fights of their lives would be against their public school system.

"I never, ever, ever expected this kind of pushback," said Ava's dad Chris Cozenzo.

Since Ava's medical condition is so fragile, her pediatric cardiologist said in-person learning would be too dangerous for her and her siblings during the pandemic.

"If we put Ava in a school setting, what do you fear could happen?" Layton asked Dr. Sean Levchick.

"She's gonna get exposed unnecessarily to, potentially, a life-threatening illness," Dr. Levchick said.

Unlike last year, the Miller Place School District isn't offering a remote option so the immunocompromised child can take courses virtually with her classmates. Instead, it's two hours of tutoring a day for Ava and one hour daily for her brother and sister.

"Very upsetting... because I would like to get an education, also, like the rest of the kids," Ava said.

The debate over whether districts should have to offer a virtual option is heated across the Tri-State Area.

In New Jersey, nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition of behalf of parents for a virtual choice.

While New York City schools offer a "Medically Necessary Instruction" program, it's only an hour of lessons a day, five days a week.

Ava's parents said they started having conversations with the district about their concerns for this school year six months ago - and they've hit nothing but roadblocks.

"What is their reason?" Layton asked Danielle.

"Money," she said.

Layton took the Cozenzo's concerns to the superintendent, whose office referred us to its public relations agency.

After a back and forth that lasted several days, they sent a statement saying in part:

The district is committed to providing each student with the educational services within the scope of the law. New York State law requires the district to provide five hours per week of homebound instruction for students in grades K-6 and ten hours per week for students in grades 7-12.

Layton got on the phone again and asked for specifics about how the district is reaching out to help the family. They reiterated they could not comment further.

The Cozenzos hope to prevail on behalf of Ava and all immunocompromised children.

"This is not an 'I can't' from the district. It's an 'I won't,'" said Danielle.

"There's no end where I'm willing to take this. It's my family. It's my daughter," said Chris.

CBS2 asked Gov. Kathy Hochul's office about options for children with medical issues and the hours of schooling they're entitled to. They referred us to the State Education Department.

We reached out, but did not get a response before this story aired.

CBS2's Jessica Layton contributed to this report.

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