Coronavirus impact: Special education students left in limbo after school closures

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, school districts continue to navigate their way through social distancing and the most vulnerable during these uncertain times appears to be special education children.

Matthew Turley, who was diagnosed early on with autism. He turned 3 years old just as the shelter-in-place mandate went into effect.

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This is the age when children with special needs transition from receiving services from the state to getting them through a school district.

"Right now the guidance that we're getting is just, we can resume the evaluation process when schools reopen, so that's fall," said Amber Turley, Matthew's mom.

That would mean that Matthew would be in limbo for six months without what is called an individualized education plan from his local school district Berkeley Unified--in other words a loss of precious time.

When the lockdown order came, the California legislature quickly passed Senate Bill 117 to provide guidance and to protect school districts giving them the right to waive certain requirements.

For example, school districts are now allowed to extend timelines for assessments.

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Right now if districts are having a hard time coming up with online instruction for their regular education students, the reality is that very little is being done for those in special education programs. Parents are being left with that task.

"They are trying to be therapists, to be teachers to their kids, this is immensely hard while they are also trying to survive," said Eileen Crumm with Family Resources Navigators.

There are more than 700,000 special education students in California.

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