CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Charleston charter school that serves children with multiple and severe disabilities has welcomed students back after a nearly five-month long closure because of COVID-19.
Pattison’s Academy returned to school Tuesday after closing because of the pandemic on March 17.
The school serves students ages 6 to 21 and says their students receive critical health services the include physical, occupational and speech therapy in addition to education.
Executive Director Paige Knowlson says that while virtual services were provided during the extended closure, many students suffered from skill regression.
“We did our absolute best and pivoted and our teachers and therapists did an incredible job of meeting those children as well as they could over that virtual platform but it’s just not nearly as effective when you can’t use those modifications and accommodations the children are used to,” she said.
Knowlson says that regression is a major concern for students with special needs and it goes beyond simply not remembering subjects you would learn in the classroom.
"We are talking about can our children use their communication devices to identify their basic needs, tell their family they're hungry, identify the need to go to the bathroom," Knowlson said. "When you're talking about life skills and a regression in life skills that becomes a quality of life concern."
Knowlson said they responded to family's concerns about those regressions and spent about nine weeks rewriting their operational plan in order to reopen safely.
The plan was based off of CDC and DHEC guidelines and then was sent to MUSC's "Back2Business" program for final recommendations and adjustments.
"It's really a balance of both in making sure the child's learning and safety and the staff's safety was emphasized at all times," Knowlson said.
The school says they have implemented social distancing in classrooms, new hygiene and cleaning protocols and contact tracing.
Knowlson says the school is operating in two cohorts where students come to school onsite twice a week and are able to continue virtual learning at home the other three days a week.
Families that aren’t comfortable sending their children back are able to do virtual learning five days a week and have the opportunity for therapy virtually or onsite in an outpatient medical model.