Baltimore County schools are being accused of failing special needs students who need their own aides, by not sending assistants into those students’ homes because of COVID-19 fears.
The school system is wrestling with the dilemma of protecting its employees while at the same time making sure those students aren’t left behind in virtual learning.
That has led to complaints from disability advocates that the county is failing to provide those students with an appropriate education as required by law.
The aides help students during the school day with things like taking notes, staying focused and controlling their behavior.
Megan Stewart-Sicking’s son Simon is going into third grade at Sparks Elementary School. Simon is autistic and pre-COVID had an aide who helped him with his behavior, manage his anxiety and stay focused.
Sicking said students like Simon who don’t do well when their routines are disrupted need that aide more than ever, now that virtual learning has changed everything.
“We have told them we’re going to do school differently, we’re going to interact with each other differently, we’re usually trying to get these kids off of devices and to learn social skills and how to interact with their peers and now we’re putting them on a device all day to learn,” Sicking said.
In a letter to the Baltimore County Board of Education, Leslie Margolis, a managing attorney with Disability Rights Maryland, said the school system remains legally obligated to appropriately educate those students. Margolis said the parent of one of her clients told her that when her child is in school he can’t leave. At home, he can shut down his computer.
“There’s nobody to make him participate in education services,” Margolis said. “The mother can try but then my client, who has pretty significant autism, will attack her.”
Mary Boswell-McComas, the Chief Academic Officer for the Baltimore County Public Schools, said the school system is looking at creative ways to help those students who in the school building have one-on-one aides.
McComas said, “In the virtual context, in the safety conditions, how do we meet the needs with the resources and capacity that we have now?”