For students with special needs, remote learning has many hardships

Numerous schools in New Jersey are not planning a return to in-person learning until 2021.
Remote learning isn’t ideal for a lot of families. But there is one group of students who are really struggling to adapt – students with special needs.
“We’re expected to be teachers, physical therapists, professionals…They just basically one day announced to us that they’re going to close school and this is what they expect of us,” says caregiver Sharon MacGregor.
It has been a challenging year for 14-year-old Wharton teen Josh Nazzaro. He has autism and is non-verbal. When schools closed in March, his family says that his progress started to erode. His sometimes-aggressive meltdowns – unseen for months before the pandemic – started to return.
His family says that they understand the need for virtual learning, but say that they feel that the pandemic has put the teen’s education on hold.
“This is just, to me, a crying shame because the school that he goes to is excellent when it’s in school. But it’s not a program that works virtually,” MacGregor says.
MacGregor has been involved in Nazzaro’s education since she began dating his father several years ago. Both are essential workers and have had to take out a home equity loan to hire aides to help guide Nazzaro through the remote school day.
“We are tapped out financially. We’ve been spending upwards of $3,000 or $4,000 a month since March because Josh needs constant care. And that’s just so we can work,” says MacGregor.
Nazzaro is back in private school for two half-days. But with COVID-19 cases surging again, the family is bracing for another possible closure.
“This has basically put his life on hold for a year and even if we hold him back, he’s still only allowed to stay in school until he’s 21. Then that’s it. He gets thrown out,” she says.
Nazarro’s family – along with more than 500 other families in 35 states – have signed onto a class-action lawsuit to get schools to reopen for students with special needs. Or issue vouchers for parents who have had to leave jobs or hire outside help to fill in the gaps.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit last month, ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction.