Mom of teen with autism says need for in-person teaching for fall is even greater due to his disability

The debate over whether to send students back to school in person or to attend online is at the forefront of every parent's mind right now.

For some parents it goes beyond whether to send their children back, it is a safety concern. As the mom of a teenager who has severe autism, Kathy Leonatti is at a loss. 

"I just love him so much, and just would do anything for my son," said Leonatti.

She says her son Matthew is normally a happy 17-year-old, but that all changed when his school shut down in March because of COVID-19. 

"He will shake, he will try to come at you, he will throw things around the house," she said.

Leonatti's son goes to school year-round at the Macomb Intermediate School District.  She says Matthew not having his routine, led to destructive behavior including a mental breakdown and a two-week stay in a hospital. 

"I don't know what's going to happen if schools don't open soon, is he going to end up in a home will he end up back in the mental hospital, I don't know," she said. 

Now the Fraser mom flipped through school worksheets Matthew refuses to do. Leonatti is also waiting to hear if he can go back to class this fall. 

"It's critical as much as possible to have that face to face instruction for our students with disabilities," said Justin Michalak.

Michalak, the assistant superintendent for special education in the Macomb school district, hopes students with disabilities can get back to face-to-face instruction. 

He says their classes are usually smaller so it is easier to practice social distancing and personal protective equipment is ready to go.

"Our students in our center programs have significant disabilities, they love their teachers, they love seeing their para pros and their bus drivers," he said.

MISD hopes to offer in-person and virtual learning for all students. They say plans should be announced in the next few weeks. Now as schools across the state decide how to approach learning, Leonati hopes kids who have special needs are not left behind.
"I don't think they're thinking about the whole picture here," she said. "Is the cure worth the whole disease. Is the benefit outweighing the risk?"