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Remote learning prompts fears for parents of kids with disabilities

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Like many Rhode Island parents, Heather Correia is trying to juggle working from home and taking care of her daughter, who is out of school because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But unlike most parents, Correia has an additional challenge: her 13-year-old daughter has severe disabilities, and relies on school for critical services that affect her quality of life.

Correia’s daughter attends Lincoln Middle School and has intellectual, development and physical disabilities. “She receives special education as well as related services which include physical, occupational and speech therapies,” her mother said.

“I don’t know if I could do a 6- to 7-hour virtual day with her, balancing work,” Correia said. “It’s been challenging, but we’re all in this together and we’re figuring it out.”

It’s not clear yet how Correia’s daughter will be served remotely when all public school districts in Rhode Island begin virtual learning on Monday. She doesn’t use a computer, for example. At school, she focuses on life skills and improving her language and speech.

“What every parent worries about the most is regression,” Correia said. “I’m very concerned how this will affect her existing skills, as well as those that were just emerging as this happened.”

She said she was grateful that Gov. Gina Raimondo has not yet closed schools for a longer period of time. At the moment, Raimondo says the state will evaluate how distance learning is going after two weeks, and she has said she is reluctant to “throw in the towel” on the academic year.

Lincoln Superintendent Lawrence Filippelli said special education families are being contacted individually with specific remote learning plans. For therapies in individualized education plans (IEPs) that can’t be properly offered remotely, he said the district is still waiting on guidance from the federal government on compensatory services.

“No word on that yet but I think all districts will be making a compensation plan when the dust settles and we get some guidance from [the U.S. Department of Education],” Filippelli said in an email.

R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said Thursday evening that every public school district and public charter in Rhode Island submitted a remote learning plan by the deadline Thursday. The plans are now being reviewed by RIDE, and will be revised and modified as needed.

“The major challenge that our local education leaders face is ensuring access to all students, especially those who lack online options at home or have individualized education plans,” Infante-Green said. “Our RIDE team is working to connect local education leaders with companies that have stepped up to offer software packages, hotspot service for homes and other technical assistance.”

Cox cable, for example, said this week it was pledging $25,000 to RIDE for computers and WiFi services for public school students who need the tools for distance learning. Another $10,000 is being spent to help CCRI students, who are also learning remotely.

“In a time of confusion and unpredictability, we want to provide the stability and certainty that school can and will happen, no matter what obstacle is put in our way,” Infante-Green said. “We owe it to our children and to the future of our state and nation.”

Steph Machado ( covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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