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Suffolk superintendent wants students with disabilities to have more in-person learning

In a letter to school board members, Dr. John B. Gordon urged them to allow students with special needs to attend school in-person four days a week.

SUFFOLK, Va. — Changes could be on the way for students with special needs who attend Suffolk Public Schools.

In a letter to school board members, Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon urged them to increase the number of in-person school days for special needs students. He recommended four in-person days as opposed to the current amount of two.

In the letter, Gordon said students who receive special education services rely on consistent schedules, routines and social interaction.

The school board planned to make a decision Thursday, but postponed the vote to its October meeting.

Leslie Schiefer, a mother in Suffolk, has spent the last 10 years advocating for children with special needs in Suffolk. She was the Chair of the Suffolk Special Ed Advisory Committee.

Schiefer’s 15-year-old son, Nathan, is a child with special needs. Schiefer said hybrid and virtual learning were difficult for him when the school division made the switch to remote learning last spring.

“They need that consistency, that one-on-one instruction. When they’re at home, they can’t receive their one-on-one therapies,” said Schiefer.

“They have missed a lot in the spring. They have a lot of catch up work to do.”

This fall, her son Nathan will be home-schooled. Schiefer is in the process of finding outpatient therapy services for him. Prior to the switch, he had attended Suffolk Public Schools since he was three.

Nathan didn’t have the option to return to school. Schiefer said his doctor advised against attending school in-person. He has a heart condition and an autoimmune disease, which puts him at high risk if he contracts COVID-19.

While he’s no longer attending Suffolk Public Schools, his mom continues advocating other families who are experiencing the same struggles.

“It’s important that our children with special needs be back in school, in the classroom, with their teachers four days a week at least,” said Schiefer.

“They just don’t learn from home the same way neurotypical children learn from home. If we have the opportunity to get them back in school, we need to get them back in school safely.”