Letter to the Editor - Elk Grove school reopening; Why my children need schools five days a week full in-person instruction

As a stay-at-home mom of eight children, I was already incredibly busy working full time to support my children’s needs at home when they were not in school. When the pandemic hit and my most vulnerable and higher needs children were forced to sit in front of a computer screen for multiple hours a day to complete their education—the task almost seemed insurmountable. My husband works full-time to support our family. My two youngest children, one who is special needs requires 24/7 care from me for their daily living. How was I to support all of my children in their unique needs as one person?

I want to share a few of the experiences I’ve had as a special needs mom during the 400+ days of distance learning with the Elk Grove Unified School District (EGUSD).  Bottom line—my children are not having their educational needs met nor are they being provided the adequate services required by law per the IEP and the IDEA.

My son Shane, who is seven has multiple diagnoses including intellectual disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and autism. Some of the most basic skills that a child his age without special needs does Shane cannot do. The EGUSD is asking DAILY for Shane to sit down in front of a computer for six hours a day when he literally cannot sit in one place for one minute. 

The only way possible for Shane to complete any of the work assigned or attend any of his daily ZOOM classroom meetings would be if I was with him 100-percent of the time, paying no attention to my other children who are also school-aged and on Zoom for their school. Clearly for a plethora of reasons me sitting to complete school work with him is not a viable solution. Even if I could sit with him for that duration, I am not able to give him the essential tools that school district can and should be continuing to provide.

Pre-Pandemic Shane was being taught how to live life with his special needs through the supplemental support of Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, occupational and physical therapy. Things like occupational therapy which were so vital for him and his success in life have been stripped from him this year and with nothing from the district to replace those valuable tools! It is imperative for Shane and so many others that share his unique perspective of life to get back to school; be taught by trained professionals in the field of special needs education, and help get Shane to be the best version of himself he can possibly be, because my boy like so many other children out there, deserve no less.

Gretta and Sawyer (two of my other children) like Shane have a different view of life and a different way to learn - they both are legally deaf and their hearing is getting progressively worse. By age 15 both of them will be completely deaf with zero chance of regaining their hearing. This makes their situation even more dire as time is of the essence to assure that they hone in their skills of communication before it is too late. These difficult tasks of learning how to read lips and learning a whole different language like ASL over a computer screen is virtually impossible; making this virtual year a literal nightmare! Their frustration with themselves of not being able to learn makes them shut down and further isolate themselves from the education that they need and deserve. They are three grade levels behind and with ZOOM school it’s impossible to grasp the tools they need to catch up and flourish amongst their peers.

They need stability in more ways than being a typical child. Being adopted from foster care at the age of 6 with almost no language and chaos and instability in their initial years has paved the way for triggers through the instability of distance learning. They lack true sign language teaching and they don’t know where to look for help. They need 100-percent supervision on ZOOM because they are lost. How is a parent supposed to be driving back and forth to school (s) and teach and create stability that they need so much?

We as a society and in our humanity with one another have a responsibility to take care of those that are unable to care for themselves. Sadly, through the past year, we have failed. Shane needs to be back in school to get the dire care he needs and deserves. Gretta and Sawyer need to get back to school to get the specialized assistant that they so desperately need before their window to learn ASL runs out.

I call on EGUSD Leadership to do the right thing and get Shane, Gretta, Sawyer and so many others like them back in school full time! 

Kristy McCaty Foley
Elk Grove

PS: So what is the solution for a parent like me with more than one special needs child? Invest time and energy into one while your other children suffer through their own challenges with distance learning!? That is not an option! 

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