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CNY Students with Learning & Other Disabilities Should Revisit Ed Plans as School Classes Resume


More and more schools in Central New York are increasing their in-person learning as the coronavirus pandemic eases.  For students with disabilities, it also means getting back to specialized plans for their education. 

One local agency is helping students get the educational assistance and accommodations guaranteed them by law.

Joey Antonacci is a sophomore in the Fayetteville-Manlius School District … and he’s actually managed pretty well with virtual learning.  He notes teens are comfortable with technology and, he jokes, even have to help out the teachers at times.

His school has just gone back to in-person learning 4 days-a-week, but had been doing a lot of the classwork virtually, just as many districts and families have. 

“It’s (been) hard socially because I miss all my friends at school.  You know,  whatcha going to do.”

Joey has an IEP – and individualized education plan – arrangements that are set up for people with disabilities.  And are necessarily individualized.  For him, virtual classes actually worked out in one way.

“I’m glad it’s slower actually because my brain doesn’t look like others.  Ive learned that after many years.  So I’m glad I get to replay, things are recorded.  So, kids have to have their cameras on and pay attention which is good.  I pay attention, then you could rewind it after, which is good.” 

One big part of an IEP that’s been missing however, is the specific teaching plan and resources a school offers.  Joey’s mom, Kristen Antonacci says that’s not all.

“We also found that it was tricky for Joey in relation with his teachers because he’s always been able to build a great relationship, being able to stay after school.  But with the hybrid method, they weren’t allowing that this year.”

Kristen has been an advocate of Joey’s really since pre-school.  They say they were fortunate to run into Brad Burnham, who helped Joey figure out the best ways to teach him. 

“And he was constantly looking at and creating different ways to figure out what was best for Joey because he knew he know (course material).  He just knew that Joey thought differently, learned differently and the outcome wasn’t that (Burnham) knew that Joey knew.”

Burnham now works for ARISE helping youth with I-E-P’s. 

“He really opened our eyes to what was available to us as a family.  Also, that it’s no cost.  There are many families, I think, that have no idea what’s available to them.  But even if they do know, they can’t afford it,” Antonacci added.

Burnham agrees the necessity for virtual learning held students back.

“Something were lost that a lot of kids that didn’t do well (needed) like, the social parts of the school day, interaction with their peers, interactions with their teachers.”

And he reminds families that any special accommodations, time with teachers, other resources, are required of school districts by law.  The federal measure, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, also called IDEA, was passed 45 years ago.  It helps ARISE come up with what’s best for each student base on their individual needs.

“We work with the family and with the school district to make sure the child’s IEP is accurate with IDEA (law) so that the child can get the education that they are entitled to under IDEA. And we work with both the family and the schools so that gap can be crossed because sometimes that is a fairly wide gap.”

Now that more students are going back into school buildings, those with I-E-Ps can get back on track.  And ARISE is recommending families start to put them in place for next school year.  Getting things right for each student takes time and effort.  A University of California Civil Rights Project study found schools ill-preparedto help the myriad needs of students with disabilities due to pandemic cuts and losses.  Kristen and Joey Antonucci are well-experienced in what is needed when planning with the school.

“It’s really important that kids are their too,” Kristen Antonacci points out.  “When Joey was younger he didn’t really have any input but as he got older, he knows what he needs. He’s a great advocate for himself.”

“In order to get things that you want, you have to ask,” Joey adds.  “They don’t ask for it, you have to ask yourself.”

Brad Burnham does see things getting better … and is ready to assist in whatever planning or negotiating is needed on each student’s behalf.

“I am very hopeful for next year, hopeful that all the kids will be back in the classroom.  That’s where out kids do their best, I feel.  If a family has a child with an IEP, what I would recommend to them is to know what you as a parent, and your child, what your rights are.  And if you have a question, to definitely give us a call.  We’ll be more than happy to help.”

Kristen and Joey say they’re happy to be in the F-M school district, where they’ve found both resources and people to help.  Joey kept a good attitude through it all.  He admits to sharing a laugh with fellow students when teachers don’t successfully share a screen or keep themselves muted in an online class. But he’s ready for a little slice of normal.

“(We’re) thankfully going Monday, Tuesday, Thursday Friday.  So, I guess just seeing your friends in the hall because you don’t get that social interaction.”

ARISE can help with I-E-Ps for students who qualify with a disability under IDEA or those under section 504 with physical disabilities that need accommodations. 


The organiztion suggests, adn can hlep with:

  • Request special education testing and make sure appropriate and timely evaluations occur.
  • Help you understand students’ rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) and 504.
  • Review Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 Plans.
  • Attend meetings and hearings (Committee on Special Education meetings, parent-teacher conferences, disciplinary hearings, manifestation hearings, and other informal meetings).
  • Access resources, information, and referrals to help students with disabilities succeed.

ARISE Education Advocacy program is available to:

  • Students with disabilities.
  • Students who have a 504 Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
  • Students who have not been evaluated for special education services.

(information provided by ARISE Inc.)

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.