COVID-19 And Education

Will Our Most Vulnerable Students Continue To Be Left Behind?

With the post-Christmas COVID-19 surge finally retreating, some LAUSD students will begin returning to school. What about those who can’t?

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

LAUSD spokeswoman Barbara Jones declined to answer questions about how the nation’s second-largest school district is addressing the needs of its special education students.

- Los Angeles Times

In normal circumstances, parents have a hard time negotiating the LAUSD’s vast bureaucracy when advocating for their children with special education needs. In a system designed to discourage the use of high-cost but effective services, parents in this situation often feel that they are adversaries to a district that is supposed to be their partner in helping students reach their highest potential. On top of the extraordinary stress involved in raising a child with mental or physical challenges, we must constantly deal with the self-doubt that we could have done more or that a different choice about education programs would have brought better results. If we had only fought just a little harder, would our child be making better progress?

The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things more difficult. Like all other families, we must deal with the economic conditions, health implications, and social isolation caused by this unique moment in history. On top of this, our children are dealing with the difficulties of receiving services in a distant learning environment and the resulting regression. Our hearts are crumbling as we watch years of hard-fought progress slip away before our eyes.

With the easing of stay-at-home orders necessitated by the post-Christmas surge of the virus, some of the neediest students will get to physically return to school in small-group settings. However, not all parents believe that this return is worth the risk to their children or their own lives. During public comment at the LAUSD’s Committee of the Whole meeting, I reminded the school board that they have an obligation to ensure that these students still get the best education possible during these difficult times:

While it is great that some kids whose parents want them to return to school are going to get that opportunity, I think that we need to remember that there are children for whom going back to school physically at this point is not possible. There is “research [that] shows people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism are more likely to become infected by and die from COVID-19, especially at younger ages.” For patients between 0 and 17 years of age, those with Intellectual Developmental Disabilities (IDD) had a fatality rate of 1.6%, while those without those disabilities had a fatality rate of less than 0.1%.

There are also family risks. In my family, my wife is immunocompromised. We can not risk sending our children to school to bring back something that could literally kill her. For those kids who are not going to be able to return to school, we need to continue to focus on making sure that the delivery of distance learning for these children is improved.

One way to do this is to allow Behavior Intervention Implementation specialists (BII) from Non-Public Agencies (NPA) in students’ households. The district has said for months that they are working on it, but they say that it is not safe. If the parents approve, the agency approves, the individual provider approves and insurance is provided, then the district should not be standing in the way. If there are concerns, then they should voice exactly what those concerns are so that they can be rectified.

My child is non-verbal. She is staring at a screen. She has a BII on the screen, but this is just another square on the board; it does not always help. She needs that physical interaction with a professional to ensure that she is learning.

Slide from CAC presentation to LAUSD Board

Parents and the LAUSD should not be adversaries, but partners in the fight to make sure that children emerge from this pandemic with as little harm as possible. As stated by Deputy Superintendent Megan Reilly during the meeting, there is never a time where “too much communication can occur.” Board President Kelly Gonez must immediately allow the Special Education Committee to begin operating as a way to foster dialog between parents and the district. Superintendent Beutner must instruct the bureaucrats to stand down and stop blocking common-sense solutions like having BII’s operate inside students’ homes when invited and they can safely do so. Most importantly, parents should be informed how the LAUSD plans to make up for services lost during the shutdown and to help students recover from any regression that has occurred. Our most vulnerable students deserve this.


Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” For links to his blogs, please visit Opinions are his own.

Parent, special education advocate and former LAUSD School Board candidate. Still fighting for the children.

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