Mom says Richmond Public Schools is denying her special-needs son online classes

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond mother says Richmond Public Schools is refusing to provide online education for her son.

When the pandemic hit and schools closed, Laquetta Massey thought for sure her special-needs son would be able to access virtual courses just like every other RPS student. Yet, Massey says that hasn’t happened and her son is being denied his right to an education.

“I am a little agitated again,” Massey told 8News.

Massey explained that her son Kendirrick longs to be in a school and participate in high school sports. However, Dr. Marla Crawford, the Massey’s child advocate says a battle over private placement for the special-needs teen has kept him out of class and off the track virtually or in person.

“He’s just not getting any educational services at all,” Dr. Crawford claims.

8News first spoke to Crawford and the Massey’s back in early March just before the pandemic hit. Kendirrick’s IEP or Individualized Education Program calls for the 18-year-old to be placed in a private specialized school since the district can’t support his special needs.

Federal law requires students with disabilities be provided a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) up to age 21.

“He has multiple special needs,” Massey said.

At the time, RPS was only offering to pay for Kendirrick to attend one of the Fusion Academies in Northern Virginia. That’s 90 to 110 miles away from Richmond. It also meant the avid runner wouldn’t be home in time to take part in sports at RPS.

“Three, four hours on the highway, we know the traffic from Richmond to DC,” Massey told 8News.

Crawford and Massey filed a due process complaint and were awaiting a hearing. Then, COVID-19 cancelled all classes here and there. School went virtual. Still, Massey was stunned when she learned RPS would only provide her son online courses on a condition.

“The only way they were willing to allow him to have that virtual instruction with one-on-one, direct, real time services is if the mother drops her federal complaint for not educating him for over a year,” Crawford explained.

In the proposed resolution agreement from RPS, which was shared with 8News, it states Kendirrick will be enrolled in the virtual learning program offered by the Fusion school if Massey signs and agrees to “withdraw her due process complaint filed back in February,” she explained.

“This issue has nothing to do with the prior complaint,” Dr. Crawford said.

“You’re still mandated to have to educate my son,” added Massey.

Crawford says this is a violation, telling 8News, “They are in non-compliance of federal mandates.” She also said she has reached out to Senator Tim Kaine and he’s assured her the school district received funding for every child under the CARES Act to cover a variety of COVID-19 related expenses for students with disabilities, which could include specialized online classes.

“He is just sitting and he is not learning,” said Massey.

8News reached out to Richmond schools. In a statement all they told 8News is, “RPS is committed to working with families to ensure that all our students have the support they need and ensuring that we are following IDEA and other applicable laws and regulation. We cannot comment on the specifics of this case due to student and family privacy.”

Despite this, Massey is not sitting back.

“We’ve already filed another due process just with this process alone,” she told 8News.

A hearing date for this latest due process complaint is set for July 22. 8News reached out to Virginia Secretary of Education Atfi Qarni but we were referred to the Virginia Department of Education, which again confirmed CARES Act funding can be used to provide instructional services to students with disabilities.

The following was provided to 8News by VDOE:

On May 1, Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane announced that Virginia public schools will receive $238.6 million in federal funding under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security Act. The emergency legislation — also known as the CARES Act — was approved by Congress and signed into law on March 27.

Ninety percent of the funding, totaling more than $214.7 million, will pass directly to the commonwealth’s school divisions. Amounts for each division are based on the formula used to allocate funding for schools under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The allocation for Richmond Public schools is approximately $13.3 million.

The CARES Act gives local school divisions wide latitude in how they spend their allocations. Approved uses for the funding include, but are not limited to the following:

• Services and expenses directly related to the pandemic, such as cleaning of schools and other facilities;
• Expenses related to providing extended learning opportunities, including summer and after-school programs;
• Instructional and support services for economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, homeless students, migrant students, students in foster care, and racial and ethnic minority students;
• Expenses related to expanding and improving distance learning options for all students;
• Mental health services; and
• Career and technical education.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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