Special ed teachers concerned about return to school

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Some districts are a month away from a new school year, and at this point, most schools will be open and ready to start teaching in person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidelines favor reopening schools, saying children are less likely to experience severe symptoms or spread the virus.

But when it comes to students who are at a higher risk, especially those with special needs, their teachers are much more concerned.

“I’m excited, but I’m also scared to death,” said Ann Post, an SXI Teacher (or an instructor of students with multiple impairments) at Lincoln Developmental Center in Grand Rapids.

If it isn’t already, keeping COVID-19 out of the classroom will soon be on the minds of teachers and students everywhere. And special education has an added level of worry.

“Every teacher fights with all the germs no matter where you are,” she said. “Kids carry germs. Even my kid, they cannot cover their mouths, they can’t catch a sneeze, so we’re at even greater risk of things flying through the air.”

She is responsible for some of the most medically fragile and vulnerable students in the area at the Kent Intermediate School District.

And something as simple as a cold could put them in the hospital.

“Our students cannot wear PPE (personal protective equipment),” said Post. “They cannot wear a mask because most of them cannot take it off themselves. Some of them have trachs (tracheostomy tube). Some of them have tube feedings.”

Parents in many districts can choose whether to send their kids into the building or participate in distance learning.

“If anyone’s going to be in person, it needs to be my special education students,” said Caitlin Oliver, a social worker with Grand Rapids Public Schools. “A lot of my little ones need that physical touch, that reassurance, that safety.”

Oliver suggested that general education students attend class remotely so that those with learning disabilities can get the hands-on approach they often need in their education.

Otherwise, the confidence in maintaining a safe environment isn’t there, she said.

“I do not think we have enough PPE. I don’t think our class sizes are small enough. I don’t think we have enough staff or the training,” she said. “I don’t think we’re ready to go back on Aug. 25 full in-person, and it not ends with us ending up virtual in six weeks.”

“Is it too much, too soon? Should we wait a little while? But then, what does that look like, and our kids have missed so much already,” said Post. “I don’t envy the people that have to make the decisions. I really don’t.”

When it comes to Grand Rapids Public Schools, there could be more information on a re-entry plan for the upcoming school year on Monday.

And the clock is ticking for Michigan school districts who are making safety plans.

Under an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, schools must adopt and put them in action by mid-August.

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