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Charlottesville City Schools has yet to release specific details around how it will assist children who have severe disabilities and need one-to-one attention — and the parents of those children are becoming concerned. 

“We will be able to consider a variety of learning options based on student needs,” Rachel Rasnake, coordinator of special education, wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. “Face-to-face options will be considered if the student is not benefiting from the virtual program.”

The division did not say how such in-person meetings would work — such as if the division had plans to go to children’s houses or bring them into the school.

“Anything is possible — it’s customized to the individual needs of the family,” spokeswoman Beth Cheuk wrote in an email Tuesday. “The goal is to respond to the needs of the student based on the IEP.” 

But parents said they have yet to hear from the school division. 

“This is the first time they aren’t ready,” said Dareen Aloudeh, a city parent whose daughter has multiple health conditions that require one-on-one assistance. “Every year, I have had a meeting with them in December, always. And they haven’t [made] a new plan for next year. I’m concerned about my daughter’s education.”

The division’s IEP case managers returned to work Tuesday and will be reaching out to parents to talk about their children’s needs, Rasnake said. 

Any necessary IEP meetings will be scheduled and an IEP meeting can be requested at any time to make changes if needed, she said.

“IEP teams will consider academic, social-emotional, behavioral and adaptive needs when making these decisions,” Rasnake said. “General education will be provided virtually, and there’s no plan to provide students a separate general education, face-to-face option.”

Hajer Sheikh Abdulsalan has multiple health conditions, including spina bifida, and requires one-on-one assistance with everything, like transferring from one class to another or reaching for supplies. Credit: Credit: Billy Jean Louis/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Aloudeh, who immigrated from Syria to the U.S. five years ago and is still learning English, said her daughter needs in-person instruction because that allows her to stay connected with her teacher. She said her daughter, Hajer Sheikh Abdulsalan, has multiple health conditions, including spina bifida, and requires one-on-one assistance with everything, like transferring from one class to another or reaching for supplies. 

“I cannot leave her alone,” Aloudeh said. 

Her daughter needs help to reposition her body every 15 to 20 minutes if she’s not in her wheelchair, which makes online learning more difficult, Aloudeh said. Back in spring, she had to be on the screen for an hour or more. This fall won’t be different. Her daughter will be spending more time online, she said. 

“I didn’t really understand online [learning] and I want a teacher to be with me and make me understand stuff and explain stuff with me,” said Hajer, who is in fourth grade at Greenbrier Elementary School. “I need someone to kind of help me to teach me, sit next to me and explain stuff to me — and online didn’t really work out for me because they weren’t explaining stuff.” 

Neither the Virginia Department of Education nor the U.S. Department of Education requires schools to revisit an IEP prior to the start of the school year. But parents can request an IEP meeting any time. 

The IEP team needs to make an individualized determination for the child about how their IEP goals will be met and how their IEP services will be delivered, said Molly McShane, an attorney at Legal Aid Justice Center. 

For some children with IEPs, virtual learning and attending synchronous Zoom sessions with their classmates will be sufficient to meet their IEP goals, McShane said. 

“For others, some synchronous sessions with classmates and one-to-one virtual sessions with a special education teacher may be sufficient; and for others, they may need some in-person instruction and/or related services,” McShane said. 

Laura Salvatierra’s 5-year-old son, Asher, will attend kindergarten at Charlottesville City Schools. He has special needs and needs one-to-one help. The special needs plan outlined at the last School Board meeting was vague, she said in an interview Aug. 10.

The division said it would partner with third parties, including the YMCA, to provide virtual learning as well as child care. But Salvatierra does not feel comfortable with that plan, mainly for health reasons. 

She said her son struggles to listen and follow through with safety rules all the time.

“You cannot possibly support my child without touching him. And so you have to touch him physically to be close to him in order to help him navigate his day,” Salvatierra said. “I don’t feel comfortable with him going to the Y.” 

She said she would most prefer for a skilled professional to be working one-on-one with him and either a small group, like three or four children or even just by himself. And if that needs to happen at her home, she’s OK with that. 

“If it needs to happen in the school in a small classroom setting, I’m OK with that,” she said. “But I absolutely need one-on-one support for my son for school days. I absolutely do. We cannot function as a family without that support.”


Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.