AKRON, Ohio — Holly Christensen and Max Thomas have a large family.
"We have three kids out of the house and our youngest are 10 and 8," said Christensen.
After scrambling last spring with the sudden closure of schools, this family knew virtual learning would not cut it for their youngest child, Lyra.
Lyra has Down Syndrome, and it is required that the school meet certain needs. After the shutdown in the spring, they started to see some regression in Lyra.
"It's heartbreaking because these kids work so hard."
Finding out in late July that Akron Public Schools would be shut down for at least the first nine weeks in the fall, this family knew they had to do something.
“School is important to her because of all the same reason it is for a neurotypical child," said Christensen. "But also, she receives a lot of supplementary services at school.”
That supplementary work is part of Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is a legal document under U.S. law that is developed for each public school child in the country who needs special education. Each IEP is different and created through a team of the child's parent and district personnel who are knowledgeable about the child's needs.
Knowing their daughters needs would not be met by online learning alone, this family got creative. They hired a teacher and quickly started their plan.
“So, we got the educational component down, now what do we do for the physical space?" said Lyra's dad, Max Thomas. "We thought we need to be outdoors, but we'd need it to be sheltered, so we bought a tent.”
These parents want people to know they're here, and have room for other students like Lyra as well.
“We'd be happy to have other students," said Thomas. "If need be, I'd be happy to get another tent and put it up next to this one.”
They also understand some parents and teachers aren't comfortable going back to school yet.
“We're not saying you need to go into an all or nothing model,” said Thomas.
However, they expect more to be done for the most vulnerable kids in the district.
“We shouldn't have to put a tent in our backyard and hire a teacher to help Lyra,” said Thomas.
The school board is set to announce plans at the end of October on what they intend to do for school starting in November.