‘I never thought about leaving.’ School for students with developmental challenges stayed mostly open in pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for families of people with developmental challenges, mainly due to all the lockdowns and closures.
But as many school districts remain in virtual-only mode, one district serving these students stayed open for most of the year.
In teacher Stephanie Marrone's classroom at the Bright Beginnings Learning Center in Piscataway, social distancing is not an option. The school serves young students who have severe developmental challenges.
When News 12 New Jersey visited the school, student Dalila was getting used to a new wheelchair that she steers with her head.
“Dalila also has a feeding device that she's able to feed herself,” Marrone says.
Bright Beginnings is one of three schools on the Piscataway campus of the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey, a public school district that provides education and training up to age 21.
Besides academics, a lot of instruction focuses on life skills - from eating and dressing to navigating their neighborhoods and applying for a job. Face-to-face is important and a hands-on approach is sometimes necessary.
The three schools were out of the classroom less than most schools during the pandemic, going fully remote for only the weeks when the virus was spoking from late November to January.
“What I hated the most was, I missed the kids. That’s what I missed,” Marrone says.
Some of the students are still attending the schools remotely.
“That’s my Zoom schedule. And it changes every day. Plus I have to be prepared – their therapies are still via Zoom,” says Marrone. “And then of course we take care of the kids that are in school, so there’s a lot of hand-washing. A lot of juggling staff. And a lot of creativity.”
Marrone says that despite all the stress, she never thought about leaving the school. She says that she prayed a lot for her students.
“It meant the world to me to be back in person with my students. I couldn’t wait to get back and see their faces and work with them one-on-one,” she says. “I know when they go there, they were excited to see us as well.”
The district says that while there were some cases of COVID-19 with people who worked or attended the schools, they did not experience any in-school spread of the virus.