In person learning for special needs students varies greatly by school district

PIERCE COUNTY - When it comes to kids with very high needs like CJ Gibbs, in person therapy and lessons are crucial.

“Everyone has to point to somebody else, well they need to, they know, meanwhile my son is being denied his free appropriate public education.

Before Friday, the last time Q13 News spoke with Natalie Gibbs was in August when she was pleading for her 14 year-old autistic son to get some one on one time with teachers at Franklin Pierce School District.

In response, the district told Q13 News they were working out a system to hopefully bring back some of the most vulnerable kids in a matter of weeks after the school year started.

Now more than two months later, Gibbs says CJ has received no in person learning.

When you look at OSPI’s map, it’s evident that in person instruction varies greatly depending on what school district you are in.

Gibbs says resources for special needs kids across the state is not equitable.

“There is a big problem with that,” Gibbs said.

Many school districts have pulled back from hybrid learning due to the rise in COVID cases but districts are still prioritizing students with special needs since remote learning is not appropriate for many of them.

For example, Clover Park School District that neighbors Franklin Pierce has 785 high need students receiving in person instruction.

The Puyallup School District has 760 students and Tacoma Public Schools has 720.

Those  Pierce County school districts are serving special needs kids in all grades.

Students have been back at TPS for weeks but Ergun on Friday emphasized that teachers are talking about the possibility of pulling back with rising cases. But even if that ends up being the case, Ergun says kids with the highest needs will continue to be prioritized.

“Tacoma has developed in cooperation with the district a flow chart a face to face protocol, decision tree essentially and the goal there is to look at what are the student’s needs in an individualized basis,” Tacoma Education Association President Shannon Ergun said.

 So what is going on at Franklin Pierce?

The district says they ended up deciding to bring back elementary kids with special needs first. In all, the district has around 8,000 students with around 1,100 in special education. Currently 130 of the 1,100 are receiving in person learning.

A spokesperson for the district says the hope is to have kids in CJ’s grades back in December.

 But every month that goes by, Gibbs says her son gets worse and worse.

“He wants to run away from this, he’s sleeping more, not depressed but very withdrawn and losing interest in other people entirely,” Gibbs said.

Outside of Pierce County, Seattle Public Schools says they have identified 70 students out of 8,000 special education students who need in person learning.

 At this time only 40 students are receiving in person learning in a variety of settings. SPS says they are making decisions on in person services through the IEP process based on a student's individual need and progress.