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Sudden Switch To Remote Learning Means Particular Challenge For Students With Special Needs

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The sudden switch to remote learning in New York City public schools is a major setback for students with special needs.

City stats show more than half were enrolled for in-person learning, likely because they rely on support services that can't be replicated through a screen.

As CBS2's Lisa Rozner reports, 16-year-old Jacob Sanchez is on the autism spectrum and adjusting, yet again, to remote learning.

More: Mayor De Blasio Under Fire As New York City Public Schools Return To All-Remote Learning

Via Zoom, Rozner asked how he and his mom felt.

"How'd you feel about that?" his mom Carmen said.

"I don't know how I feel about that," Jacob said.

Showing how much more he thrives off in-person interaction, when the same question was posed in person, he elaborated.

"Still not my thing, but I'd rather be in in-person class for this kind of stuff. You know what I mean?" he said. "In terms of support, kinda went down a little bit."

Jacob attends the Manhattan High School at Beacon. His mom says he didn't speak until he was 3, and progressed to becoming high functioning due to extra therapies. Speech language pathology, occupational therapy and physical therapy are integral parts of the curriculum for students in District 75, which serves the city's 25,000 special needs students.

Link: Remote Learning Resources For Parents

It's likely why city stats show more than half had signed up for full time in-person instruction.

"We're trying to develop creative solutions to help meet the needs of families who are carrying incredible burdens right now," said Arianna Esposito, director of lifespan services at Autism Speaks.

Autism Speaks says its solutions include creating a schedule at home to create structure and staying in close contact with the child's teacher and support team.

Jacob's parents, who both work, are doing the best they can.

"My biggest concern is how much information are they going to really absorb," Carmen said.

More: NYC Catholic Schools Staying Open As Public Schools Switch To Remote Learning

"There's something to be said in working in groups in terms of down the line, when in the workforce," said Jacob's father Adonis Sanchez. "All this type of development starts now in high school."

Attorney Gary Mayerson says some clients that are special needs parents may find children repeating school years.

"You might have a situation where parents are going to have to come back a year from now or two years from now and ask the BOE to provide services that should have been provided now," Mayerson said.

The Department of Education sent the following statement to CBS2:

"We know consistency is important for our students with disabilities and their families, and New Yorkers now have to do everything we can to bring kids back into buildings as quickly as possible.

New York City was the first major school district to safely offer in-person special education services this past summer, and we will continue to prioritize in-person support for these students when we reopen.

Our teachers, paraprofessionals, and school leaders have been preparing for this and will continue to offer high-quality support and instruction to our students and families remotely during this time."

A Department of Education spokesperson says the district will continue to offer high-quality support, including online resources for parents to share feedback and showing them how to set up a quiet space and how to calm down.

Parents can adjust, but it will take time for the city's most vulnerable students.


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