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Special Education students are struggling with virtual learning

“I miss my friends and my teachers and I also do not like being online,” said Phoebe Kaynor, a student at Morris Jeff High School.

NEW ORLEANS — With the spike in local coronavirus cases Orleans Parish Public Schools are now in distance, virtual learning for at least the next two weeks.

And that could last longer if current trends continue.

But there are parents who said it's creating a hardship, especially on some of the city’s most vulnerable children.

Sophomore, Phoebe Kaynor,16, is trying to keep up with distance learning.

“I miss my friends and my teachers and I also do not like being online,” said Phoebe Kaynor, a student at Morris Jeff High School.

Her mother, Grace Kaynor is a widow, raising her special needs daughter, Phoebe, alone. So the Orleans Public Schools’ decision to go to virtual, is even more difficult.

“Phoebe was told she'd never learn in a classroom environment. She was told she'd never learn to read,” said Grace Kaynor.

But the special education assistants in the classroom at Morris Jeff High School have made a tremendous difference. Phoebe can't write without them.

“They're stretched to the limit because now they've got to handle the virtual learning rooms for every, every class. So they just can't be there for every child,” said Grace.

Grace feels fortunate, as a business owner with flexible hours, she can be there to help Phoebe and she can afford outside help. But despite teachers who she says are excellent, Phoebe is struggling with virtual learning. Grace also sees other children online who are disengaged when their parents can't be there.

“So if you have to put food on the table and you can't live on the $300 a week that you're getting for unemployment, you have no option if you can find work these days but to go to work.”

Lesley Kane is also a widow. Her daughter Molly is Phoebe's classmate and depends on the special education assistants as well.

“She personally needs that personal interaction with her teachers, with her classmates. You know it's depressing for everyone,” said Lesley Kane, whose daughter is a sophomore at Morris Jeff High School.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Brobson Lutz believes children need to be in the classroom for a variety of health reasons.

“The decision to close preschool and elementary schools in particular has me worried, but the data are clear, childhood transmission is not an effective way to spread this virus,” said Dr. Brobson Lutz.

The city said while spread in schools is low, the community rate is high, and not enough families are taking precautions.

“Unfortunately the schools made the really hard decision and I think that their teachers are rightly concerned. When teachers see their students and families having parties, when teachers see the positivity rate rise above 10 percent, they know what their risk is,” said the Director of New Orleans Health Department Dr. Jennifer Avegno.

There's also the risk of children falling behind.

“There's now a double standard. So the public school kids, they don't go to school. The private school kids, they can go to school, and to me that is just blatant inequality,” said Grace Kaynor.

An Orleans Parish Public Schools spokeswoman tell us that each school is allowed to create small, in-person classes for special needs students.

Some schools may be working on plans for that now.

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