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Mom needs details to make informed decision about virtual versus in-person school

Angie Holbert weighs what to do but she doesn't have enough information

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knox County Schools superintendent set Tuesday as the deadline for families to fill out a survey on attending virtual classes. 

The survey is not binding, but it is causing some angst among parents, especially parents of kids with special needs.

Morgan Holbert is really looking forward to her sophomore year at Halls High School. The 16-year-old especially enjoys the social interaction of school.

"She's used to being able to high five and give hugs and that type of thing and that's not going to be possible so I think that will be difficult," Angie Holbert said. 

Angie is the Executive Director of the local Down Syndrome Awareness Group but she spoke with WBIR from the perspective of a mom .

She is weighing what to do about sending her children to school, Morgan and her  younger siblings. 

"It's hard to make an informed decision when you don't have all the information. At this point I don't know what a typical day is going to look like for my gen(eral) ed students or for my special ed student. And in special ed you have way more to consider," she said. 

Credit: Angie Holbert
Morgan Holbert will be a sophomore at Halls High School

When in-person classes ended in mid-March, Angie found resources online for Morgan. But it's not the same as learning in a classroom. 

"Virtually, in the spring it was super difficult because she has a hard time staying on task and so that would be challenging for her as well. And her services that go along with that for any kid: occupational therapy, physical therapy, any of that. I don't know if that's all going to fall in line. It's all just really unknown at this time," she said. 

Students with special needs have an IEP, Individualized Education Program. Morgan's IEP includes community based instruction. 

"That is where she's supposed to go out into the community and learn life skills along with her other fellow classmates. She's supposed to get on a bus and travel to a retail establishment and then go in and pay for an item or ask someone for help, I don't know how that is going to be possible if she's supposed to be social distancing," she said. 

Credit: Angie Holbert
Her mom says Morgan learns better in a classroom but classes will not be the same this school year

Angie supports higher cleanliness standards but wonders what that will look like for students who may share adaptive equipment and assistive technology. 

"I had heard it mentioned that peer tutors would be helping with cleaning and I really don't know that that's the best option but I also don't know how they're going to have enough personnel when the teachers are already busy trying to educate students basically individually. So it's all a huge challenge," she said. 

In-school could provide Morgan interaction with peers, specialized instruction, a safe environment, and routine. Or it could not.

"I think virtual may be her best option for now not knowing what the school day will look like," she said. 

Superintendent Bob Thomas says he will announce the plan for fall classes on July 15. 

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