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As some St. Louis County schools open for child care, special needs families feel left behind

“It's disheartening that they've figured out how to do childcare, but they can't figure out how to get children with special needs the services they need"

ST. LOUIS — In two of the biggest school districts in St. Louis County, a child care program is expanding its hours to provide day care for virtual learners.

It’s a big assist for some parents who can’t stay home with their children, but it makes others – especially those with children who have special needs – feel left behind.

“It's disheartening that they've figured out how to do child care, but they can't figure out how to get children with special needs the services they need,” mom Shay Kalinowski said.

Kalinowski’s son Sammy is a rising kindergartner with an individualized education program in the Parkway district. She said a computer screen is a non-starter for him, but would be the only choice because Parkway went 100% virtual.

"And then today I heard that they were offering Adventure Club at his elementary school for 10 hours a day, but I'm being told that he is unable to receive any in-person services," she said.

During a normal year, Adventure Club provides before-and-after-school care for students in the Rockwood and Parkway districts. This year, because both are starting the year virtually, it will also offer a full-day “essential care” program for parents who need a place for their children to learn outside the house.

“Our job is not to serve as a teacher but really just to facilitate their learning and connect them to their classroom teacher,” said Mike Seppi, the director of community education for the two districts.

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Seppi expects the full-day program to fill up with students who expressed interest in Adventure Club last school year. It costs $50 a day – though tuition assistance is available – and families can enroll for anywhere from one to five days a week. 

Curbside drop-offs, required masks and social distancing are already part of the safety plan. Each group will be limited to 10 students with an estimated maximum of 60 children in each school that offers the program.

Adventure Club hosted a summer camp with similar rules and no issues, coordinator Leanne Cantu said. 

"So, kids who can afford it can get care at the elementary school that has been deemed too unsafe to open for in-person learning. That's crazy,” mom Shay Kalinowski said.

A Parkway spokeswoman said Adventure Club accommodates special needs students, even some who require one-on-one attention, but cannot accommodate every need because its staff is not made up of teachers.

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The Special School District of St. Louis County, which provides special education services to Parkway students, said it follows the rules its partner districts set. Because Parkway went all-virtual, that means special education did, too.

Kalinowski said she’s decided to keep her son enrolled in his preschool, which also offers kindergarten, until Parkway has a plan for in-person instruction.

Statement from Parkway School District:

"For many years, Parkway has served students with special needs in our before and after school programs and this supervision is still available. We also offer tuition assistance to anyone in need. We too are disappointed that there are services Special School District and Parkway are unable to provide in-person at this time. We are all committed to getting students back to school in-person as soon as possible."

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