ENCINO, Calif. — Since schools closed due to COVID-19, students as well as parents have all struggled with distance learning, but none as much as students with special needs. Carla Suarez-Capdet’s son Jordi was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at 2 -½-years-old. She says LAUSD isn’t doing enough to support students enrolled in IEP or Individualized Educational Programs.
“He’s a happy easy-going kid as long as he’s doing what he loves to do,” said Suarez-Capdet. “He’s a little bit upset right now just because he doesn’t really understand why he’s using an iPad to see his teacher or his therapist so he gets a little frustrated.”
Suarez-Capdet left her career as an HR Manager in the aerospace industry once she figured out why Jordi was having trouble speaking. Originally misdiagnosed due to chronic ear infections, Jordi is considered moderate to severe. Now 6 years old, he relies on speech and occupational therapists.
“Our kids with special needs have a lot of challenges, but they can make a lot of headway if they’re given the proper support in-person and the proper opportunities,” said Suarez-Capdet. “They can show up in-person and really thrive.”
But unfortunately for students like Jordi, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner announced all in-person instructions would be suspended for the rest of the fall semester and special education assessments would shift to online.
“The best way for them to learn is in-person, face-to-face, with their therapist and their special ed teachers, or general ed teachers and distance learning doesn’t provide for that,” said Suarez-Capdet.
Lisa Mosko is the Director of Special Education Advocacy for Speak Up. She agrees LAUSD isn’t taking into account students with IEPs, students with special needs, or foster-homeless youth.
“They’re regressing to the point of self-harm,” said Mosko. “They’re losing skills. They’re losing out on instruction and they’re getting to the point where it may take years for them to catch up.”
Suarez-Capdet sees this first-hand. During a trying lesson, Jordi scratched at his spelling book.
“This is Jordi’s English language arts book and we’re working on the letter 'A' today,” said Suarez-Capdet as she held out a book with a long tear. “And instead of doing that, he just tore through the page with the pencil.”
Suarez-Capdet isn’t confident schools will reopen in the spring and is asking LAUSD to reach out to parents and take feedback based on their experience.
“There are agencies in the L.A. County area that are willing to do speech and occupational therapy in-person so I think LAUSD needs to explore those options,” said Suarez-Capdet.