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Family fears kids with special needs are falling behind, wants schools to open for them

The Dept. of Education says it is working continuously to develop guidance, including if and how to provide summer programs.

CANAAN, Maine — There is no doubt Justine and Chris Capraro have their hands full raising three boys through the coronavirus pandemic

"We're used to having it pretty tough with our kids, but it's been exponentially harder," Justine said. 

That's because two of their kids have special needs. 

Now going on week nine without school, Justine said without access to regular speech and occupational therapy she thinks they are falling behind, and even losing skills they worked so hard to gain. 

RELATED: Speech therapists help keep preschoolers from falling behind amid COVID-19 closures

"It's not going to take days for them to get them back when they do go back to school. It's going to take weeks, months, maybe years."

One of the boys is non-verbal, and while the other is verbal, he still needs routine therapy. 

The couple said their school has provided them with materials and regular phone calls to guide them through the process, but they can't do it on their own. 

"It doesn't just affect parents. It's going to affect teachers and therapists," Chris said. "Because you're going to have kids that have regressed so much."

Some school districts across the state are providing remote resources for learning and therapy. The problem: not every school offers the same level of support, and none of them offer it in person. 

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"There's a significant lack of any in-home support," Jenna Mehnert, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Maine said. "I have talked to several families who are really overwhelmed because they have multiple kids with significant challenges and they're used to having resources that aren't available to them."

NAMI Maine has seen in an increased demand for its respite program, where providers routinely care for children with developmental disabilities while their parents get a much-deserved break. 

The organization event created an emergency enrollment process and is looking for additional volunteers to provide support. 

RELATED: New NAMI Maine 'Teen Text Support Line' aims to help kids' mental health through coronavirus outbreak

The Capraros were just able to take advantage of that service in the last week, but they hope more is done to support families like theirs soon, including opening schools again, even if it is just limited to students like their sons. 

"I know there's a need to keep people safe, but we're almost at the point of 'At what cost?'" Justine said. 

The Maine Dept. of Education told NEWS CENTER Maine that ultimately decisions will be made at the local level, but did say officials are meeting to develop additional guidance on a regular basis. 

"The DOE leadership team is also meeting at least twice weekly with leaders of the education organizations, including Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities to discuss and develop guidance as we all navigate this pandemic," a spokesperson said in a statement. "This guidance has included guidance on grading considerations, and if, and how, summer programming should be handled."

More resources and support for families of students with special needs is available on the Department's website

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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