Hope is on the horizon as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, but while vaccine distribution has begun, school districts continue to struggle with the decision of whether or not to bring students back in the classroom.
Many Illinois schools are preparing to begin in-person instruction in January. The tentative return date in District 303 is Jan. 5.
"These kids need to be in class in order to fully and fairly access their education," said parent Jillian Love, whose daughter has special needs.
Love's daughter Kendall, 5, is visually impaired, nonverbal, and struggles with behavioral and physical challenges. She relies on physical therapy at school with an individual aide in a special classroom.
"It’s been a long road but despite all that she’s a super happy little girl," said Love. "She’s my determined little fighter."
Fighting, however, has gotten a lot more challenging.
The district started an adaptive learning pause in mid-November. All students, including those with IEP's, were sent home to go fully remote at the suggestion of the Kane County Health Department. The suggested pause was to last through Dec. 4.
In a statement to NBC 5, the department said in part, "It has always been the position of the Kane County Health Department that the school administrators know their school communities best, and are best qualified to make those decisions. It is the health department’s responsibility to provide guidance for their decision-making process."
Love said while the pause and new timeline may work for most students, it doesn't work for her's. She's extremely concerned about her daughter regressing and says the district isn't addressing Kendall's individual needs.
"You’ve put so much energy, so much time into helping your child get basic skills," said Love. "I’m talking learning how to take herself to the bathroom. I’m talking learning how to climb the stairs. Lots of things parents take for granted. This is part of what the school function is - to help her learn those skills so she can function as independently as she can."
Due to a lapse in insurance coverage this year, the Loves are using a health sharing program that doesn't cover private therapy. That means Kendall relies on her school district for speech therapy, occupational therapy and much more. All of that is currently being done through a computer, and Love is responsible for administering treatment.
"You can’t do it all on your own, all the time, every day," said Love. "And that’s what we’ve been doing for 10 months now."
Throughout the pandemic, Love says her daughter has received about 10 weeks of in-person instruction. She says her goal in sharing her story is to advocate for other parents with children who have special needs.
"They need to be in person. These districts have to find a way period," Love said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for District 303 said all students are in a three-week adaptive pause, and "since August, District 303 has been committed to providing special needs students at all grade levels with the opportunity to attend school in-person."
"While we understand that remote learning may be challenging for some students, we work diligently with families on ways we can best support students that promote student progress," the statement read.