Risk possible COVID-19 exposure or accept ‘heartbreaking’ limits of remote learning

When Katherine Buitron’s son froze mid-sentence and collapsed on his Chromebook during a virtual class, some of his classmates were scared. Others seemed to think he just fell asleep, she said.



a group of people sitting at a table in front of a laptop: Brothers Connor Dominick 12, left, and Cameron Dominick, 14, share a moment at the family's kitchen in Riverside.


© Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Brothers Connor Dominick 12, left, and Cameron Dominick, 14, share a moment at the family’s kitchen in Riverside.

She moved her son and closed the Chromebook.

After the seizure, he had bad headaches and double vision. Subsequent doctor’s appointments took even more time away from classes. In addition to epilepsy, the fifth grader has autism and dyslexia, and is immunocompromised, Buitron said. His two siblings also are in special education programs, but none is in the first groups of students tapped by Chicago Public Schools to return to in-person learning.



a person standing in front of a tree: Rory Dominick walks with sons Cameron Dominick, 14, who is in a special education program at Riverside-Brookfield High School, and Connor Dominick, 12, in Riverside on Oct. 27, 2020.


© Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Rory Dominick walks with sons Cameron Dominick, 14, who is in a special education program at Riverside-Brookfield High School, and Connor Dominick, 12, in Riverside on Oct. 27, 2020.

The family has already decided they’d continue remote learning anyway, because of health concerns, but would have a hard time making an informed decision based on the sparse plans the district has presented.



a group of people sitting at a table using a laptop: Rory Dominick pours juice for son Connor, 12, as son Cameron, 14, who is in a special education program at Riverside-Brookfield High School, works on his laptop at the family's Riverside home on Oct. 27, 2020. Dominick said she's thrilled her 14-year-old son was finally back in the classroom.


© Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Rory Dominick pours juice for son Connor, 12, as son Cameron, 14, who is in a special education program at Riverside-Brookfield High School, works on his laptop at the family’s Riverside home on Oct. 27, 2020. Dominick said she’s thrilled her 14-year-old son was finally back in the classroom.

“They expect parents to make choices without the full information,” Buitron said.

Even with the limited details, Deidra Kenar, another CPS parent whose children have individualized education programs, would love for them to return to school.

“We feel like the longer and longer they are away,” she said, “the more and more challenges that are coming up for them.”

Although their families don’t yet have the option to send their children back to school before the end of the calendar year, for thousands of other CPS families with special education students, decision day is Wednesday.

Along with prekindergartners, about 5,000 students in moderate and intensive cluster programs have been identified as the first who could resume in-person learning. That includes those who attend specialty schools where most or all students are what CPS classifies as diverse learners.

Based on families’ responses to opt-in forms due Wednesday, district officials will decide whether they can support in-person learning five days a week or use a hybrid model for specialty schools, CPS spokesman James Gherardi said.

Matt Cohen, an education and disability rights attorney in Chicago, said that “at first glance, there is some logic” in prioritizing students who have more severe needs.

“But in reality, there are many kids who are not cluster-based who still are at risk of tremendous regression while they are at home and have great difficulty accessing some of the classes,” Cohen said.

Children outside of cluster programs have also been showing signs of