Plea for help: Disabled NJ adults still not allowed to return to classrooms
As the vaccine rollout continues and the New Jersey rate of transmission continues to drop, Garden State schools and organizations are expanding in-person instruction opportunities. But that’s not the case for programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
State officials will only allow their programs to be offered online. The situation is causing hardship and frustration.
At the end of this week, what is being billed as the Open the Day Programs protest will be held in Freehold to bring attention to the situation.
Central Jersey resident Elizabeth Dicker, one of the organizers of the protest who teaches a program for adults with disabilities, said “remote learning for people with multiple needs is actually really hard because they have to be in front of a computer and some of them can’t access the computer. Some of them don’t even do remote learning even though it’s an option.”
She said the participants in her class are people who are working on basic life-skills.
“And that’s impossible to do over the internet,” said Dicker. “They need to be in person so they can work on things like going shopping or putting things together.”
She noted some people in these programs are struggling.
“I’ve had parents tell me that their child has been in the emergency room because they’re being so aggressive at home,” she said.
She said after so many months the situation has become critical.
“They’re not getting their therapies, they’re not getting support, they’re not even getting teaching. There are people in group homes who just sit in their room all day,” she said.
Dicker noted for many people with disabilities, going to a class is their only outing, their only socialization they will have all day.
She said all in-person programs for disabled adults in Jersey are tied to the CALI score, the COVID-19 Activity Level Index, and if levels of coronavirus are too high in one region of the state, all classes must only be offered remotely.
CALI score levels have been high across New Jersey since November.
She pointed out even if the CALI score drops to moderate and in-person classes begin again, if it suddenly goes up for a week, classes will be abruptly shut down, causing fear and confusion for those enrolled “who need consistency and structure” and who may not understand what is happening.
“The inequality of it is no other organization follows the CALI score,” she said. “School districts don’t have to do that, no other organization is tied to that.”
The Open the Day Programs protest will take place on Saturday, April 24 at the Hall of Records in Freehold at 11 a.m.
The group has launched an online signature campaign calling on state leaders to give adults with disabilities the same options as other students have to attend programs in-person.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com