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

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How a career-best finish was heartbreaking for Josh Williams

Restarting 11th with four laps to go in last weekend’s Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway, Williams saw his chance for a top-10 finish, something he had done only five times in 90 previous starts.

He had fresh tires and hope. There are no more powerful allies in racing. Especially for one who calls himself an old-school racer for how he worked his way up to driving for a small-budget Xfinity team. 

“Late in the race like that, when everybody is really trying to get after it, it is kind of like roulette,” Williams told NBC Sports. “You really never know what number it is going to land on.”

As the field entered Turn 1 on the restart, a lane opened on the bottom. Williams charged. The DGM Racing driver climbed to eighth by the backstretch. He gained two more spots to finish a career-high sixth.

After the checkered flag, he returned to pit road. Williams unbuckled his belts. He removed his helmet. Williams paused as he climbed from his car. He sat on the driver’s side window. And bowed his head.

He was not celebrating.

He was mourning.

Josh Williams, 27, starts conversations with “hey brother.” So maybe it isn’t surprising that he once hired a person he met at a gas station.

Williams had come across the guy a couple of times at the track but didn’t know his name. He had also seen him at the gas station near Williams’ shop before. On this particular day a few years ago, Williams was preparing to go to Daytona for an ARCA race and needed some help. When he saw the familiar fellow at the gas station, Williams struck up a conversation. He asked the guy if he wanted to help him at the track. Williams got a quick “yes.” Williams said they would leave from the shop, got his phone number and told Tim Hayes: “Let’s go racing.”

Hayes worked on and off for Williams for a spell before he joined Josh Williams Motorsports full-time. Williams’ operation takes care of racing vehicles from Bandolero cars and Legends Cars to Late Models for others.

“We try to get these kids to where I was,” Williams said of his development program.

Hayes helped Williams’ Xfinity crew at times, but Hayes’ focus was working on the cars at Williams’ shop and helping the young drivers who piloted them.

Hayes was easy to get along with, Williams said. The bond between Williams and Hayes grew quickly.

“I don’t think I ever went a day in the shop without laughing my ass off about something (Hayes) had to say,” Williams said. “He was one the funniest dudes I’ve ever been around.”

Hayes’ life wasn’t always full of laughter, though.

“I know he was battling depression for a long time,” Williams said. “When I met him, he was in a pretty rough place. He told me probably about nine months ago, he said, ‘Man, if I hadn’t met you and your wife I don’t

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