Local News

Family with child who has autism says their district's plan does not fit their child's needs

Posted July 24, 2020 7:30 a.m. EDT
Updated July 24, 2020 1:21 p.m. EDT

Many families who have children with special needs don't like their district's back-to-school plan. Several school systems are choosing a hybrid approach to learning as a way to mitigate the risks of spreading the coronavirus in the classroom.

The approach to learning that Lee County Schools chose requires the district to operate with schools at a 6-foot distance from one another. When they are in the classroom, students will be required to wear face coverings. Some students will need to rotate in and out of online learning and in-person learning.

Christine DeVore, a grandparent of a Lee County student, said the mask requirement does not take into consideration children with autism, like her 6-year-old grandson Oliver.

Kindergartners will have to wear mask, according to the Lee County School's website.

Oliver is a gifted learner, DeVore said.

"Give him any book and he can ready any book, even chapter books," DeVore said. "He knows his numbers. He can add. He can subtract."

For Oliver, part of living with autism means maintaining a sense of order.

In Lee County, students in grades K-7 will attend school Monday through Friday on a normal schedule. Students in grades 8-12 will attend school one day each week.

"He needs to have a set routine," DeVore said. "It has to be routine, same thing every day,"

Oliver and his sister, Lucy, stay at their grandmother's home during the day while their mom works. This is a main part of their schedule.

DeVore said she and her daughter believe Oliver is ready to adjust to kindergarten.

"He recently started saying that he does want to go play with the other kids," DeVore said.

DeVore also said that Oliver will not wear a mask if in school.

"He is not being defiant, but the sensory issues, he can’t tolerate having a mask on his face," DeVore said.

Oliver's family has tried to get answers from the school system’s webpage but could not find relevant information online.

"There’s been nothing saying this is what we’re going to do for special needs kids," DeVore said.

Since it is Oliver's first year entering the school system, DeVore said her and her daughter have not been able to find the right person to call for answers.

Lee County Schools start classes on Aug. 17 so as the days go by, DeVore is concerned that her grandson will have to wait another year.

"Then we’ll have to make a decision. He’ll be 7 (years old). Do we put him in kindergarten as a 7-year-old or do we go start him in first grade?" DeVore asked.

WRAL News was able to connect Oliver’s mother with Sharon Spence, the public information officer of Lee County Schools.

In a statement sent to WRAL News, Spence wrote:

"Each EC student [exceptional child] has unique needs that need to be addressed on an individual basis by their IEP [individualized education program] team. We know that this situation can present particular difficulties for students with disabilities, whether related to masks, remote instruction, or otherwise, and we are committed to working with each family to meet their child’s needs throughout this challenging period."

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