Standing up for Those Who Can’t Stand up for Themselves

By now, it’s well-documented that prolonged remote learning is having adverse effects on America’s schoolchildren, whether they be serious educational setbacks, increased mental and emotional health concerns, or tragically, a rise in suicide attempts and suicide-caused deaths among young people.

Then there are students America isn’t hearing so much about, like Liam Jones.

Liam is 11 years old, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and is non-verbal. Despite his significant special needs, however, Liam received a quality education in a general education classroom with a team of nurses and educators, and lots of friends.

That all came to a screeching halt when Gov. Kate Brown, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), and the Department of Health shut down in-person instruction. For many months, Liam’s education consisted of sitting him in front of a computer screen, with none of the team support he previously had access to and still required under his Individual Education Plan (IEP).

After getting nowhere going through the system on their own and at the end of their rope, Liam’s parents contacted the Freedom Foundation for help. Little by little, a plan has been put in place to provide Liam with two hours of in-person instruction per day, Monday through Thursday. He spends this time locked in a room with a nurse, a para-educator, and a teacher on a Zoom call. While this is woefully short of meeting Liam’s educational needs, it is a start.

Liam’s district is preparing to send his classmates back to school in a few weeks, but now there is a new concern. Because Liam cannot wear a mask and requires regular suctioning of the mouth, there is a real threat that he will not be allowed back into a general classroom setting.

Under the current state health department guidelines, Liam would have to remain isolated in a room by himself, away from his peers.

Liam’s father, Tyler Jones, has repeatedly expressed that the school isolation requirements are even more stringent than how we care for patients in hospitals. He believes the school is trying to do everything it can, but its hands are tied by the state health and education departments.

“We were hopeful that the state and the ODE, the Oregon Department of Education, would utilize the summer, that they would use that time to come up with a creative solution and that they would take into account all the kids in our state who are on (Individual Education Plan) IEPs, kids like our son, Liam.

No one put together a plan that took into account those kids. I think that says a lot about our state. And it’s disheartening and it’s disappointing, and it’s wrong.”

Millions of America’s children are suffering in various ways due to COVID-19 school closures. Liam’s is one of the stories we hear less about.

Please watch this video of the Jones family and share it with your friends and family.

Ashley Varner is vice president of communications and federal affairs at the Freedom Foundation, a national nonprofit with the mission to advance individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited, accountable government.