special education

Parents of Special Education Students Fear Service Lapses with School Closures

The Curich-Raccuglia family is concerned whether their son, John (bottom right), a special education student, will get needed therapy while schools are closed due to coronavirus concerns.
The Curich-Raccuglia family is concerned whether their son, John (bottom right), a special education student, will get needed therapy while schools are closed due to coronavirus concerns. Photo: Courtesy of Curich-Raccuglia Family

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Alex Laughlin went from being nonverbal three years ago to scoring his highest grade ever on a spelling test on Friday — he got a 90.

But now his mom, Jennifer Laughlin, fears her 6-year-old son’s progress at PS 46 on Staten Island is at risk because of Sunday’s announced closure of the city’s public schools through at least April 20 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“He’s finally understanding the educational part of school. His bad behaviors are gone,” said Laughlin, 44, who works in health care. “And now it’s going to be wiped away. Without that support, it’s all gone.”

Jennifer Laughlin is concerned her six-year-old son, Alex, will regress if he doesn't get his special education services for five weeks.
Jennifer Laughlin is concerned her six-year-old son, Alex, will regress if he doesn’t get his special education services for five weeks. Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Laughlin

Laughlin is among the many parents of special education students who said they fear their kids won’t get their mandated services — including speech therapy, occupational therapy and counseling — during the five-week hiatus.

Like many public school parents, Laughlin is also struggling with childcare. For now, her 80-year-old mom will have to watch Alex for 10 hours a day.

Safety Concerns

The Department of Education is still working to finalize online learning services for the bulk of the school system’s 1.1 million students — including distributing 300,000 iPads to kids without computers at home.

But the services mandated for special education students can be hard to deliver remotely, including some that require physical exercises.

DOE officials said safety concerns — amid an outbreak that has prompted the de Blasio administration to take increasingly strict steps to keep people apart — would make home-visits by therapists unlikely.

They said they’re exploring options to deliver services via tele-therapy — on top of regular remote instruction.

Nearly 300,000 special education services were recommended for students in the 2018-19 school year, according to the latest statistics. Many kids receive multiple services.

A teacher in the district that serves special education students with the highest needs, known as District 75, and an occupational therapist in Brooklyn said they hadn’t received any directives from school officials.

Teachers are slated to report to schools on Tuesday for training in remote learning, school officials said.

‘Not Going to be Easy’

Parents of students in District 75 in particular said they face additional challenges beyond scrambling to secure a babysitter: They need to find someone capable of working with high-need or medically fragile kids.

“There’s not many individuals who are childcare providers who have the background to care for these children,” said Amy Ming Tsai, a member of a council for District 75 parents. “And to lose out on not having therapy — it’s just not going to be easy for their families.”

Joann Curich-Raccuglia is working to juggle her two-part time jobs while finding care for her three kids — including her 9-year-old son, John, who attends PS 373 on Staten Island.

“My husband works full time… I don’t really have anybody that can watch my son,” said Curich-Raccuglia.

She said her plan was to go in late to one job on Monday, and have her mother leave her own job early to care for the kids.

But it’s the uncertainty over John’s mandated services — including physical and occupational therapy — that has Curich-Raccuglia most upset.

“[I’m] pretty angry. I understand why they closed the schools, they just should have planned it out a little better,” she said.

“This is New York City. You couldn’t figure out a contingency plan before this happened?” added Curich-Raccuglia. “The city is still legally mandated to provide services. How are they going to deliver all these services to these kids?”

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