Chesterfield parents with autistic son say in-person schooling option ‘essential’ for kids with special needs

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — As Chesterfield County Public Schools continue to consider reopening options for the fall, one couple says fully virtual instruction won’t work for their child with special needs.

Some reopening options include welcoming students to the classroom and staggered schedules. Other options would consist of a face mask requirement for students who ride the bus and while at school. An all-virtual option, similar to the one Richmond Public Schools recently adopted, is also on the table.

But one Chesterfield couple tells 8News a remote learning option come fall, won’t work for their son with autism. This comes after Jamie and Andy Sasser quickly realized that teaching their 9-year-old son, Will, from home, was nearly impossible. 

Andy & Jamie Sasser. (Photo: 8News’ Alex Thorson)

“We have tried! His school has tried,” Jamie Sasser said. “The autism spectrum is a very big, long spectrum. He is at a very far end of it.”

The Chesterfield Education Association is one of many organizations backing the “fully virtual” plan in the fall. Recently, the Richmond Education Association backed the plan. According to public records, in Chesterfield County, more than 8,200 children were enrolled in special education in 2019.

Now, the Sassers say those children have been forgotten about.

“An entire social fabric for these children is just gone. It’s just an issue that people don’t talk about when they talk about ‘what do we do in the fall?'” Jamie Sasser said.

Will with his mother Jamie Sasser. (Photo: 8News’ Alex Thorson)

“The whole attitude of nobody goes back until everybody goes back, it just doesn’t work for my child,” Andy Sasser added.

The couple thinks it’s too soon to send all children back in-person but hope their son can be in-school as many days as possible.

“I’m not asking for the world,” the mother told 8News. “These are critical, essential, medically recommended, scientifically proven services for these children.”

The couple told 8News, however, that private schooling options either won’t accept their son or are too expensive.

“We have no other options,” Jamie Sasser told 8News’ Alex Thorson.

“You can’t just abandon a child with Will’s issues,” Andy Sasser added.

Michele Plouffe-Morena, a certified and licensed behavioral analyst in the Richmond area, says “for a lot of kids [with autism], they’re getting speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy.”

She adds that kids with special needs are all different. Some students with special needs, she says, are actually thriving with in-home learning. But she believes that families should have the choice of whether to send their loved ones to school or keep them home for in-person learning.

“Now, having them in home without all of that, it can lead to regression in skills, it can lead to challenges for the families,” Plouffe-Morena said. “One-set school option right now is not going to work for every kid and every family.”

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