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Private school students with special needs face new school year challenges head-on

From masks and tests to virtual learning, families at a Jacksonville Catholic school for kids with learning disabilities find some obstacles more challenging.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — With unique obstacles comes unique ways of dealing with them. 

During these challenging times, we want to check in on some of our First Coast families whose children face different types of challenges every day. Morning Star School is a Catholic school in Jacksonville for kids with learning disabilities. 

Principal Elaine Shott says a lot of students have sensory issues, but the mask requirement has not been the challenge they thought it would be.

"The teacher was teaching social studies on citizenship," Shott said in an example. "The little boy said, 'I feel like a citizen when I wear my mask.'"

But there are plenty of other challenges. Jacksonville tutors call this summer "the summer of learning loss on steroids." Shott says they're assessing students' learning more often and are now testing three times just in the first quarter.

There is something new students and staff are excited about this year. In a few weeks their outdoor fitness area for the high school will be complete. It will include fitness and exercise stations.

They say this will be especially helpful now that students are not moving around the school to change classes like they normally would.

One third of the school's kids are learning virtually and routine can be especially needed for them. The school is asking students doing virtual classes to wear their school uniforms in order to stick to their routines.

Parents say filling their children's social needs has been the biggest challenge.

"It's been a lot more challenging," said Angela Russell, whose son Jake is in 11th grade. "But he's been with this group of kids for so long. At least when he sees them on Zoom or whatever they're doing, it's comfortable."

"I think that's been the most difficult part because he's Mr. Popularity," laughed Earline Fick whose son Sterling is in 5th grade.

An unexpected outcome is that it's also opened the door to new skills.

"He's gotten real kind of tech-y over the nine months," said Russell.

For Fick it's opened the door to better understanding her son.

"I should be able to come in and say 'this is what she means,'" said Fick about helping her son understand his teacher. "And this has given me the opportunity to see for myself, especially with his disabilities that he has, where I can step in. Then he gets it to see him get it, like that light bulb go out, it's worth everything."

Shott says they have not had any positive COVID-19 cases at the school.

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