SAYVILLE, NY — Nearly a year ago, Long Island students suddenly switched to virtual learning as the coronavirus pandemic exploded.
For parents of students with special needs, there have been extra challenges.
Sayville mom Jeanna Masone has been balancing helping her 10-year-old son, who has autism, with his schooling while also caring for her other two children, ages 5 and 3.
Masone said her son struggled to learn on an iPad.
“His attention is so limited, so it’s hard for him to attend classes online,” she said. “I don’t know how we got through last year.”
This year, she thought things would improve once schools began in-person learning. But she said his small special education class of about eight students has been forced to quarantine and return to virtual learning multiple times.
“Every time he goes back into quarantine, he misses two weeks of school and he is falling further and further behind,” Masone said. “If you are a slow learner or with special needs, you might never be able to make up that time.”
Before the pandemic, Masone said her son was reading and “doing well,” but now she believes he’s losing his skills and regressing. And she said it’s difficult for her son and children with special needs to sit for hours a day in front of a computer for virtual learning.
Masone said her biggest issue as a parent of a child with special needs is balancing different roles. She’s in charge of his schooling, speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
“The best we can try to do is make it so they don’t regress,” she said. “I don’t think I can teach any new skills by myself. I just don’t think people really realize that special needs kids thrive on routine and structure and consistency and when that’s taken from them, you see a lot of bad behavior emerge that maybe you wouldn’t have seen.”
Masone said virtual learning can also be difficult for parents who work full time, single parents and parents who don’t speak English.
“I don’t think virtual learning presents an equal opportunity for learning across all fields I think you would have to be a stay at home mom or super wealthy where you can hire a tutor or send your kid to private school and that just creates more of a disparity in the education system,” Masone said. “Some kids will get an education because their parents have the means but most of them really won’t.”