Education choice advocate Keith Jacobs and his son, Deuce, 13.

As a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I know that the decision about re-opening public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic  could have a tremendous impact on the social-emotional health of my son, Deuce, 13, who thrives on structure.

The switch to online learning in the spring was particularly challenging. Even though my wife and I are educators, that still was not enough to supplant the intense interventions he received with face-to-face instruction in his public school building. 

He became frustrated trying to navigate through the online platform while also completing quizzes and virtual labs all while being separated from the social connection and in-person support of his teachers.

Deuce independently completed assignments at his own pace. However, remote learning presented unique obstacles because he relies on over a dozen specific accommodations delivered through his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), most of which were either non-existent or difficult to replicate on the online platform.

Like many parents, the home became our workspace, in addition to being a school, restaurant, and gym. This forced us to balance the demands of our daily work while trying to maintain an instructional environment for our children. What worked for our youngest son, Christopher, 10, didn’t always work for Deuce.

The challenge for Deuce became monumental. I was forced to contact the teachers and administration on several occasions pleading for alternative assessments and assignments. I reiterated how difficult it was to comply with the demands of work while providing accommodations for my child outlined in his IEP.

I had to work with his Exceptional Student Education (ESE) case manager and speech therapist on providing additional technology assistance and modified lessons during their virtual sessions.

It was clear our situation would become even more daunting when we discovered that his accommodation “Text to Speech” was not present on the district’s online platform. Receiving this accommodation in the school building allowed him to have directions, questions, and answers read to him so that he could process the information more effectively. 

Without the presence of this function, I was constantly asked to fulfill this role so that he could complete his assignment often after multiple attempts of completion on his own and visible frustration prior to asking for the accommodation. 

I witnessed the despair in his eyes as he struggled with knowing he can do the work but receiving below-average assessments. His zeal and commitment toward learning, which were rewarded with a 3.75 grade point average, had been replaced by confusion and apathy.

Deuce suddenly found himself struggling to complete assignments, while I tried to prevent him from becoming fixated on these assignments for hours.

As often happens with children with autism, over-sensitivity to sensory stimuli made it even harder to concentrate in the home. Doors opening, phones ringing, conference calls and other distractions were a cacophonous barrier to learning. 

As districts wrestle with when, or even if, to re-open public schools, they must consider all their stakeholders, including students who depend on in-person learning. Are we properly balancing health concerns with students’ social-emotional health from learning in an online platform?

These examples demonstrate why choice in education is so pertinent to families.  In the last quarter of the previous school year, every child was forced to switch to distance learning with no consideration that some students just will not be successful in the model.

Even with households like mine, one child can thrive through distance learning while the other could potentially suffer in silence.

The school district’s decision in March was built out of necessity. With schools reopening in just a few weeks, these decisions need to be made with the understanding that there is no one solution to educate all students.   

Parents need options.

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JOAN JACOBS August 7, 2020 - 3:35 pm

This is an excellent article by Keith Jacobs. When reading it I felt every word deep down inside. It helped me to realize how much COVID 19 has affected children. Mr. Jacobs please continue to keep us informed about these different school situations. I sent your article to everyone. Again, thank you.

JOAN August 7, 2020 - 3:35 pm

This is an excellent article by Keith Jacobs. When reading it I felt every word deep down inside. It helped me to realize how much COVID 19 has affected children. Mr. Jacobs please continue to keep us informed about these different school situations. I sent your article to everyone. Again, thank you.

Arthur Jacobs August 7, 2020 - 3:44 pm

A very true and very thoughtful statement. We need better leadership from our leaders. No thought has been put in the school return because all young ones are do not learn the same. We must take care of all kids, not the chosen few. My prayer is for equal and just education. Praying for smarter heads to prevail. God help us all.

James and Joanna tokley August 8, 2020 - 10:14 pm

This is an excellent article Mister Jacob. We understand your plight. We Shudder to think of the challenge that will be presented for social distancing. As you know, classrooms were built for 25 to 30 students. During today’s pandemic we doubt more than 10 to 12 students can be placed in a room that accommodate social distancing. Assuming that each child needs 6 square feet of space, there is no way all children can be taught safely in classrooms as currently structured.

We certainly hope there will be options that allow your son to be taught safely in person. God bless. James and Joanna tokley

Liv August 22, 2020 - 2:10 pm

Thank you Mr. Jacobs for writing this from your perspective and personal experience.
It moved me greatly.

I appreciate all that you do and will continue to do for children in Florida.
My son has been on the gardiner scholarship for years and I will forever be grateful.

All the best to your family!
And to all the school years moving forward ☀️

Thank you

Anonymous August 24, 2020 - 1:33 pm

Thank you for this article. My husband and I foster middle school and high school children and some will thrive immediately with a structure and some take longer to adjust. We use private school and public to meet the needs of our children. We are firm believers in education helping these children reach their true potential in becoming the adults they are meant to be. They each have specific needs and are reminded that what is going on in their personal life does not define them. We help them reach goals of succeeding in school, getting jobs and seeing what they can do to give back to others. They have choices that will help them but when we remove or limit resources it cause frustration and effects their self worth. They are smart, caring and beautiful children and I pray all of the children this year and further succeed as we make changes and seek what is best for ALL children.

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