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Parents of special needs students in O.C. rejoice over new guidelines for in-person instruction

Lisa Ackerman heard the news shortly after her morning run on Wednesday, Aug. 26, and wept.

The executive director and founder of Irvine-based TACA, better known as The Autism Community in Action, reacted to new state guidelines that allow small cohorts of students — including those with special needs — to return to in-person instruction during a time that most schools are physically closed.

“Totally cried, and I cried with joy,” Ackerman said of the new guidelines. “It gives parents a choice and all we want is for parents to have a choice to do what is right by their family … versus (being) locked in a home with no choice.”

Most schools have been physically shuttered since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Schools were mandated to start their academic year in distance learning or online mode.

Parents and advocates of special needs students, especially those on the autism spectrum, have experienced difficulty with distance learning.

In releasing the guidelines Tuesday, state public health officials defined cohorts as a “stable group” of a maximum of 14 children and two adults. The guidelines approves of activities such as occupational therapy, speech and language services and behavioral services for special needs students.

The guidelines also allow for one-on-one services to be provided to a student from a supervisor outside the cohort. Face coverings and social distancing are listed among the recommendations.

“The state has appropriately balanced student safety with the need to ensure children with special needs and other student populations have access to critical individualized programs,” said Al Mijares, Orange County superintendent.

“This new guidance will help ensure they’re receiving the support they need to learn and thrive as we work toward the goal of resuming in-person instruction.”

Laurie Kubasek of Orange, a mother of three children on the autism spectrum, felt encouraged by the new guidelines.

“I am thinking it’s better than what’s going on, so I’m happy we’re heading in that direction,” she said.

“Not all parents are going to want their kids to go back to school (while) I very much want the kids go back to school because I don’t think they’re learning what they need to learn (online).”

Benjamin Bush, parent of a special needs student in the Los Alamitos Unified School District, expressed cautious optimism.

His district applied for a waiver to start in-person instruction for grades kindergarten through sixth, including special education classes, but only received approval for general education, according to Superintendent Andrew Pulver.

In a letter on Aug. 20, Pulver voiced his displeasure in the exclusion of the special education students, who now appear to have new guidelines.

“It’s a great relief because we were going to get nothing (from in-person instruction),” Bush said. “But it’s a cautious relief because everything is still up in the air.”

Newport-Mesa Unified School District, which has expressed interested in bringing special needs students back on campus in its hybrid phase, said Wednesday that it is examining the new landscape.

“We are reviewing the new guidance to see what modifications may be needed for our level 2 (modified, in-person instruction),” said public relations officer Annette Franco, whose district opened Monday in distance learning.

“No date is currently set for our district to transition to level 2.”

Source: Orange County Register

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