“For my whole 18-year career in school social work, I’ve taught kids to how to interact with one another, share toys with one another and how to play together. I’ve worked with students in early childhood through high school.

“COVID-19 restrictions have impacted all of us, but even more so our special education population.”

“Students with significant behavioral challenges and some of our medically fragile students with physical handicaps often cannot wear a mask or keep them on their faces independently. COVID-19 restrictions and masking policies completely go against what we have taught kids for decades about cooperation and have disproportionately affected these special needs populations and left them without appropriate services.”

“My daughter, who has attention deficit and a learning disability, already has trouble focusing. Now, we’re going to cover her face with a mask where she has even more difficulty understanding her teachers and reading non-verbal cues where we’re limiting two-thirds of one another’s faces. It impacts her communication, her performance, her interactions and her learning.”

“All children use facial expressions and read the teachers’ mouths for language development and we are completely limiting that, especially with masks.”

“We tell them to smile to show a friendly face and how our facial expressions relay our feelings. Covering our faces with masks, maintaining so many feet of distance, removal of toys from the classroom and limited recess goes against all of that developmental appropriateness. Kids are now being taught to stay away from one another, keep six to three feet between each other and cover their faces.”

“I recently attended the school board meeting where people were shoulder-to-shoulder in the seats and not a single person that I saw was wearing a mask. Here’s the entire school board and community in a room together without masks, but we’re going to make the children and all the staff wear masks and go back to all these restrictions next month. It’s a double standard.”
“It concerns me to see staff retiring early and leaving the field. The majority of teachers and people that are working in the schools agree we did not sign up to do this to children, to force them to stay distant, to put dirty masks on their faces and creating social stories about how to not touch your friends, how to keep your toys to yourself.”

“At the elementary level students are chewing, sucking on and soiling the masks. After lunch there would be food and spit in the masks. Kids would sneeze or [blow their noses] in the mask instead of using a tissue. The masks are a mess by the end of the day. I’ve seen kids with fungal infections on their faces. I’ve seen teachers picking up masks off the floor and telling the child to put it back on because they did not have another one or they didn’t have masks to give the children.”

“It’s evident that parents are not washing these every day and sometimes in the car rider line rush a parent hands the kid a mask from the dirty car floor. We think the masks are protecting us from the virus, but these are just kids and the mask is a biohazard bag full of germs that we do not even know how to properly dispose of.

“The school board and superintendents have concerns about insurance coverage and what the Illinois Department of Public Health [will do]. It feels like the board is indicating, ‘We agree with you. None of us are wearing masks. You’re preaching to the choir, but our hands are tied.’

“I hope we have learned in this past year of remote learning and COVID-19 restrictions that a compromised education is not what we want for our children and our communities. When services are cut, or learning is online, the burden definitely falls back on the families.

“Students who have Individualized Education Plans and special needs that are receiving specialized academic services, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social work services, etc., have been some of the worst impacted.”

“These plans were written with services that need to be in-person, and they need to take place without all the restrictions that are being placed on us as service providers. We cannot provide those services with the limitations of working through a computer.

“I’m not an occupational therapist. I have no idea what accommodations or services to provide my daughter. I need the occupational therapist to provide the therapy that my daughter requires.

“One mom with a child with autism spoke up at the board meeting and said, ‘Instead of my child getting adequate speech services that he desperately needs, he has been taught how to put on a mask, how to wear a mask, how to keep his mask on his face.’

“I have to say that as an employee of the school system, a great deal of my time was spent teaching children how to comply with the restrictions, which again totally goes against what would be developmentally appropriate for children, but yet that’s what we were told to do at the time.

“I hope that we do not go back to those restrictions moving forward. Kids need to be kids. Special education students need their services. All children have the legal right to a free and appropriate education.”

Kim Breust Neilson
School social worker
Lake in the Hills, Illinois