With schools closed, kids with disabilities are more vulnerable than ever

  • By Elissa Nadworny/NPR

With school closed, Marla Murasko begins her morning getting her 14-year-old son, Jacob, dressed and ready for the day. They have a daily check-in: How are you doing? How are you feeling? Next, they consult the colorful, hourly schedule she has pinned on the fridge.

Jacob, who has Down syndrome, loves routine. So this daily routine is important. Schools in Hopkinton, Mass., are closed until April 6th, so Jacob’s morning academic lesson — which according to the schedule starts at 9 a.m. — has been temporarily moved to the basement.

But there’s been one big hiccup to all this: What, exactly, to learn during these at-home sessions? Some of Jacob’s teachers have sent packets home — one, for a science class, includes a video and a worksheet on wolves — but teachers haven’t included any of the modifications, or “accommodations” he normally gets that are designed to adapt the lessons to his learning style. Normally, Jacob is in a general education classroom, with special help. In some subjects, like reading and math, he works with different teachers and sometimes does different lessons.

“It has been very frustrating for us,” says Murasko, “he can’t look at a five-page worksheet and learn. He needs it very simplified in order for him to learn it. If there’s no accommodations or modifications for him, he really can’t attend to that lesson plan unless I modify it for him.” So Murasko, who insists she is not and has never been a teacher, has had to get creative. She found some worksheets online that help break down readings into Who, What, Where, When and Why? She says they’re helping.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’ve approached my day at this point with trying to figure out the positives,” she says, “because I can’t keep staying in this negative arena of when are they going to provide me something?”

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