Special Needs Classrooms Face Unique Reopening Challenges

Sue Pugliese’s daughter, Michelle, loves to give out hugs. At her school on Staten Island, this doesn’t normally cause any issues. But now, that simple act could potentially escalate to serious punitive measures. It’s a fear her mother has with the new guidelines in place in schools across New York City as students returned this week for in-person learning.

“She’s going to go to school and you’re not gonna let her hug you?” Pugliese wondered about her 19-year-old daughter with autism spectrum disorder. “She’ll have fits and they’ll be calling 911 on her daily.”

It’s the change in routine that can be most upsetting for special needs students. 

Dawn Vollaro’s son, Dylan, started school this week and the biggest issue came during lunchtime.

“He could not eat in the lunchroom and that really threw him off,” Vollaro said of her third-grade son. “They got a battle out of him.” 


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Unique challenges: Special education was difficult for families in the spring. Will this fall be better? | Local Education

Leani Tell is starting kindergarten this year.

Like thousands of her peers, she’s doing so from home. Unlike most of them, she would have been at home even without the pandemic that will keep Madison Metropolitan School District buildings mostly closed through at least Oct. 31.

Leani, 4, has spinal muscular atrophy, which causes symptoms similar to those that ALS causes in adults. It also means she is especially susceptible to respiratory infections, with even colds sending her to the hospital for days.

“I didn’t really care a whole lot if kids were going back to school or not because she was never going to be going in-person,” said her mother, Nichole Fritts. “She was always going to be virtual because of her health status.”

But the pandemic is hurting Leani’s education anyway, as the school district is not providing an in-person educational aide as outlined in her Individualized Education

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