Parents with special needs students say Sarasota County Schools are not giving enough options

Options For Special Needs Students

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The back-to-school countdown is on for students in Sarasota County. In less than two weeks, thousands of kids will return to campus for traditional school, while tons of others will be learning virtually. However, some parents are raising concerns that students with special needs are not getting the school options that they need.

Marie McKilligin, a mother of four in North Port, says she has been emailing and calling the school district for weeks trying to figure out what was the best choice for school this year. She can’t have her kids be back inside the classrooms because they are high-risk for COVID-19, but she also doesn’t want them to fall behind in their academics.

“I’m not qualified to homeschool. I know they have options through Florida Virtual, but by the time we found all this out, their full-time program is already closed for enrollment, so I don’t really know what our options are,” explained McKilligin.

McKilligin has three kids in the Sarasota County School System. Her oldest two are twins, and are enrolled in North Port High School in two different special education programs. Jason has cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. He is part of the access classes, which will be done virtually on a one-on-one basis.

Meanwhile, Taylor only has an individualized education program for math, but this is not an option if students decide to do e-learning this school year.

“The option that we were given was brick and motor – which is ridiculous. All kids who pretty much are in IEPs have special needs, are at higher risk for COVID. Plus, they’re going to be the ones that are going to have a hard time keeping the masks on, and washing their hands. It’s going to be tough,” McKilligin tells ABC7.

We reached out to the Sarasota County School District for more clarification on what options parents had if their child had special learning needs and we received this statement saying:

“There is not a one-size-fits-all approach for all ESE students (those with special needs or those without special needs) – accommodations and strategies will depend on the child’s individual needs & specifications in their unique IEP. Families will hear directly from their school.”

However, McKilligin says the district, as well as the ese directors from North Port High School, told her that these were the only options for the time-being.

“Virtual would work out, if they didn’t make him sit in front of a computer from 8-3. We need a little bit of flexibility here. I can’t choose between my job, and the well-being of my children. Unfortunately, you have to have money to survive. It’s just the way the world works,” McKilligin explained.

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