NEW YORK — If schools are reopened in September, masks will have to be worn by teachers and students, desks will be spaced out and social distancing will be enforced — but what about special needs students who may not understand they have to keep their masks on or keep six-feet apart?
That’s a big concern for one NYC special needs teacher.
“We do not feel safe at all," said Mindy Rosier-Rayburn on Wednesday.
Rosier-Rayburn's been a NYC teacher for over 20 years. She’s spent the last 14 years at the Mickey Mantle School in Harlem, where she works with special needs students.
“Pretty much every lesson we do with certain students, they need one-to-one interaction in order to complete subjects like math, ELA, art, even gym,” she said.
According to the Harlem teacher, reopening schools before a COVID-19 vaccination is not safe for students with disabilities, emotional and behavior difficulties or language and communication disorders and their teachers are at risk, too.
“Some of our students with severe autism or low functioning may not understand why they have to wear a mask," she said. "You have students who sometimes get emotionally overwhelmed and they act out — sometimes they’re spitting sometimes they’re biting, what are the protocols then?”
The Department of Education provided PIX11 News photos showing the safety measures that are currently in place for those special needs students and instructors who have opted to take in-person summer classes.
We’re also told there will be extra measures taken for educators and kids who need it the most if schools reopen in September.
They include clear desk shields, cleanings between each class session and increased PPE for staff.
“Teaching things remotely without students how they normally learn is not ideal,” Rosier-Rayburn said.
She believes NYC public school officials should focus on learning the ropes of remote learning better,instead of rushing kids back to the classroom.
“If it has to be remote until there is a vaccine so be it, our students will be alive and we will work our hardest to catch them up.”
"Health and safety for our special education students, teachers and providers is at the forefront of all our policies and guidance," DOE spokesperson Danielle Filson said in a statement to PIX11.
"There are currently clear protocols in place for in-person special education services this summer, including face masks, shields, social distancing, hand-washing, and a strict cleaning schedule. We will be sharing safety protocols that are shaped by CDC and State guidance for the upcoming school year soon," the statement concludes.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce whether kids will go back to classrooms the first week of August. Full school reopening plans have to be submitted to the state first, that’s due next Friday.