TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS5) -- As school districts across the Valley announce closures amid coronavirus concerns, families of children with disabilities are worried how the long break in learning could affect their child’s progress.

“How do we keep on going on with the services and be able to take care of our kids over the next, who knows how long, is going to take,” says Jennifer Bickerstaff.

She and her husband have three kids with autism. They say they’re confused and frustrated after learning Tempe Elementary School District is not holding classes after spring break until further notice.

Their oldest son, Ian, is non-verbal. Bickerstaff says with special instruction, Ian has come a long way. She doesn’t want his progress to backslide.

“Right now they’re in the process of training him how to use an iPad to communicate with us, so his iPad training is completely halted,” says Bickerstaff. “He has what they call regressive autism so if they don’t keep up with it, he will start losing some of the skills.”

Arizona’s Family asked Tempe Elementary School District what it is recommending to families like the Bickerstaffs. The district forwarded guidance from the U.S. Department of Education saying if a school closes to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, “and does not provide any educational services to the general student population” then the school is “not required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period of time.”

The guidance goes on to say if a school figures out a way to educate students during a closure “the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities.” Many districts are still trying to figure out their next steps to protect students and staff from coronavirus spread. It’s unclear what learning will look like following spring break.

“It is absolutely frustrating,” says Bickerstaff. “There’s nothing you can do.”


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