Distance learning during the pandemic has been difficult for many students. But for Loki, a 4th grader with autism, ADHD, and significant developmental delays, it was a nightmare.
Stacy Noel began fostering Loki 4 years ago. At the time, he was enrolled at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders, a day treatment program that specializes in the unique needs of children with developmental disorders. Eventually, the school district stopped paying for the day treatment program and Loki joined the mainstream students at the local public school.
Since Loki started at the public school, Stacy has been fighting hard to get adequate programming for Loki’s level of need. Previously, Stacy worked with KIDS LEGAL, a specialty unit within Pine Tree that is exclusively focused on addressing the unique needs of low-income children and youth in Maine. Our KIDS LEGAL team helped Stacy advocate for more robust and necessary programming for Loki, including an applied behavior analysis (ABA) program at his elementary school, supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
Last fall, Loki moved up to the intermediate school and began 4th grade. Stacy noticed that he was regressing and losing speech. The school wasn’t able to provide a level of support and education that met his needs. As Loki grew in size and behaviors, the school wasn’t keeping up. They stopped pushing him academical to avoid triggering behaviors related to his disabilities. He was not learning anything new or more because they could not handle the behaviors.
When COVID-19 spread to Maine and schools moved to distance learning, it got worse. “COVID-19 made an already bad situation 1,000 times worse. I continuously worked with the school to try to make it work for him but, it never really did to the point that he needed. That is why specialized schools for kids with autism is so important.” said Stacy.
As difficult as distance learning is for everyone, school districts have a responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education. But because of Loki’s disabilities, he was not able to engage in remote learning, resulting in very significant educational and functional regression.
Loki suffered both academic regressions as well as serious behavioral and emotional challenges while out of school. Without the educational services and supports he needed, he experienced an escalation of behavioral issues, including an incident when he broke through the window in his bedroom (which has safety locks) and went up on the roof of the house. By the end of the school year, Loki needed to be hospitalized.
Stacy advocated on behalf of Loki to try to get him moved back to the same treatment program at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders. At the Center, Loki would have the opportunity to continue his education in-person, around peers, with trained staff and individualized attention.
Stacy reached out to KIDS LEGAL again for help. Our KIDS LEGAL team, paralegal Claire Nacinovich and attorney Connor Cory, partnered with Stacy to advocate on behalf of Loki. Working with the school district, they were able to reach an agreement that Loki needed more support and one-on-one attention, and that in order for him to access a free and appropriate public education he should be allowed to attend a day treatment program.
Loki is now enrolled at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders and is thriving!