PEORIA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The coronavirus pandemic and new health protocols bring challenges for many children. It's been especially difficult for kids with special needs.
A Peoria mom wants her autistic son exempt from wearing a mask at school because of his sensory issues. Heather Rooks said she got a note from her son's psychiatrist, asking Vistancia Elementary School to excuse him from wearing a mask.
"In his medical opinion that he stated to me, kids like Emmett with the autism spectrum disorder, sensory sensitivities, they can't tolerate or handle wearing something over their face," said Rooks.
Rooks said the school nurse sent her an email saying Emmett could get a letter from his doctor to exclude him from the mask mandate.
Peoria Unified School District confirmed the email came from the school nurse. When Emmett started school on Sept. 21, Rooks said the district still made him wear a mask.
"The third day of school, he was given a face shield," said Rooks. "His teacher emailed me saying that did not work for him either. Thursday, they tried disposable masks. They tried masks we provided that were cloth. He was given one break in the morning, I believe, and then Friday morning I witnessed him just crying in front of the school and begging me to take him back to the car."
Now Rooks is keeping Emmett home.
"It's even more confusing and traumatizing for him because he doesn't know what's going on around him," said Rooks.
The district said it's had daily conversations with the family, trying to come up with a solution.
"Our number one goal is for all students to have a safe and positive learning experience, whether at home or in school," said district in an email.
The district also said, "We have many situations across our district where there have been concerns and we have worked with each one to provide appropriate accommodations. Examples of some accommodations we have made for students and staff are: remote learning, more frequent mask breaks, a see-through desktop barrier with adequate physical distancing to allow for brief, in-class mask break."
"They offered a desk with plexiglass in the back of the classroom, but he'd still have to wear a mask if he at all stepped up from his desk," said Rooks.
She believes Emmett should be allowed at school without wearing a mask at all because of his disability.
"The online learning is just terrible," said Rooks. "It does not work for him at all."
A policy page from the Arizona School Boards Association said nothing about exemptions for kids with disabilities, but it does say the superintendent may make exceptions while keeping in mind the health and safety of everyone involved.