Some students get to go back to school in Pierce Co., but not the way they're used to

With some school districts in Pierce County are allowing some grades and special education students to come back in person, many parents are relieved. But many are also already finding out that current in-person learning is not what their child is used to. Some parents who have children with special needs are finding that going back in person doesn’t solve some of the big issues they had with distance learning.

Nine-year-old Anastasia Valentine is used to a highly specialized learning model at Vaughn Elementary school in Pierce County. Anastasia has Down syndrome. Pre-COVID her day would consist of some special education classes and time with various specialists, but a majority of the day she’d get to be with students her age in general education classes, where she had an aide by her side. 

"She’s not capable of doing Zoom, she can’t do it by herself, and I work full time so I can’t do it,” says her mother, April Valentine.

So you’d imagine that learning Anastasia can go back to school full time this Thursday would have them ecstatic, but it’s not that simple. For her age group, the school is only reopening the special education classes, where she’ll only be with one other student. Being in general education classes with her peers still isn’t an option.

Valentine explains that even though her daughter doesn’t usually do the same curriculum as the other students her age, simply being in the classroom with them makes a tremendous difference in her growth.

“It’s extremely important, if we hadn’t started therapies and play groups and everything for her as soon as she was born, she wouldn’t be where she’s at now in terms of walking and functioning. She’s still way behind on talking, and she’s not going to catch up on talking if she can’t be face-to-face with other people.”

Valentine says trying to keep her daughter from falling incredibly far behind takes a toll.

“There’s not enough hours in a day, there’s not enough days in the week anymore. I have fibromyalgia and it’s pushing me, it’s pushing me to the point where I’m waiting for my body to just give out on me, I mean mentally, I’m exhausted, physically, I’m exhausted.”

Valentine realizes her daughter won’t be able to learn the way she really needs to be until school fully goes back to normal and she can be around other students.

“It’s very painful, it makes me feel like I’m failing her. It’s overwhelming trying to figure out what can I do to make this up for her. There’s only so much I can do. It’s not just me, she has to have that socialization, but I can’t just give that to her, if I could, I would."