(Jared Tseng)

For Austin special-needs student Grant Sherwood, center, online education is not a viable option for school, his father says. (Photo taken in October 2017)

When the pandemic shut down Austin student Grant Sherwood's school along with the rest of the district in March, continuing his education online was simply not possible.


For Grant, a 20-year-old with cerebral palsy and severe cognitive disabilities, education is almost entirely social and emotional skill-building, practicing communication and finding joy in being with people like himself.

So when his teacher at Rosedale School attempted Zoom video sessions with him, as educators across the district were instructed to do, Grant was so dismissive that it was almost comical, said his father, Dr. Stephen Sherwood, a pediatric dentist in Austin.

"He would just start saying 'goodbye!'" his father said with a chuckle. "His learning is very, very delayed. He has the ability to learn, but learning online is not even an option for him."

In-person or not at all

Earlier this week, Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin and Travis County, told county commissioners that he strongly agreed with a recent national study urging schools to prioritize younger children and special education programs as they come up with ways to reopen schools to in-person classes.

They were welcome words for the Sherwoods, who are outliers in an increasingly tense national debate, as parents and politicians weigh the pros and cons of sending kids to school in person during a pandemic or keeping them home to learn virtually until COVID-19 cases flatten.

For Grant, who will need round-the-clock physical and medical care for the rest of his life, there really is no debate, and there is certainly no "pro" to online learning.

This fall, Grant will be entering his third year at Rosedale, an Austin ISD campus that specializes in teaching and caring for children with severe disabilities up through age 21.

Without the doors open, there is little role that Rosedale—which Sherwood described as a warm and nurturing place—can play in Grant's life.

"He enjoyed riding the bus, he was at school all day long," he said. "His teachers, his classmates—he just really thrives on having his regular social interaction with the people in his life."

Social distancing is difficult

Sherwood, whose wife Krista stays home to take care of Grant and their other three kids, ages 13, 16 and 18, while he works, also recognizes how difficult it would be for students like Grant to follow health guidelines at school.

In Grant's case, he coughs a lot, and he won't keep a mask on, which means the family can't really take him anywhere that requires it, Sherwood said.

"They don't have the ability to really control how they spread their germs," he said. "It's just a hard situation because we want our teachers to be safe, too, and don't want to put them at additional risk."

He believes the school will advocate for Grant and the other students, and that administrators will work to bring them back as soon as possible.

Sherwood said they'll take anything they can get, because while the tight-knit family has enjoyed some aspects of so much togetherness, the isolation has taken its toll on everyone.

"His cognitive disability is such that he can't tell us, 'Man, I really am bummed out because I can't see my teachers and my friends,'" Sherwood said. "But we've noticed that he's not really been himself."

With no plans announced and no real idea when Grant will be able to go back, there's not much to do but play the waiting game that's been dragging on through an exhausting summer.

"We'll just keep doing what we've been doing," Sherwood said. "One day at a time."

Want to read more stories like this one? Start every day with a quick look at what's happening in Austin. Sign up for Austonia.com's free daily morning email.
 
(screenshots)

David Frost, 22, filmed Austin protester Justin Howell (left) being carried to medics after being shot in the head by an Austin police officer. Other officers then shot at the protesters as they approached, causing them to duck (right).

David Frost, 22, had never attended a protest before the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in May. Then the cell phone-wielding Austinite became a key player in a series of events that touched off major change in the Austin Police Department.

Keep Reading Show less

Right Now: Claim Your Free Lifesize Account

Communication for the modern workplace

Everything we do is designed, built and supported to make the user experience excellent and effortless from day one. After more than fifteen years of developing conference room systems, wireless meeting room presentation devices, video conferencing apps and the global cloud network that ties it all together, we don't settle for anything less than amazing.

Lifesize has emphasized security and privacy since launching our cloud service in 2014.

Keep Reading Show less
(Kevin Ludlow)

The petition, if validated and approved by voters this November, would have reinstated a city ban on public camping.

The group behind a petition to put a citywide public-camping ban on the November ballot in Austin said Thursday that they were "engaging a highly respected local Democratic litigator" in their efforts to fight a city ruling earlier in the week that their petition did not enough valid signatures.

Keep Reading Show less
(Facebook)

Austin physicians and staff lined the halls of Ascension Seton Medical Center to celebrate the recovery and release of a COVID-19 patient in a "Code Sunshine" video posted this week on the hospital's Facebook page, bringing light to a tough time when hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 cases.

Keep Reading Show less
(The 19th*)

CEO of The 19th* Emily Ramshaw (left) will be interviewed by the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle (right) next week.

The Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle is taking her turn at being the interviewer, putting Austinite Emily Ramshaw—a longtime local journalism trailblazer and co-founder and CEO of The 19th* news organization—in the hot seat at the organization's virtual summit event next week.

Keep Reading Show less
(Magnolia Network/Instagram)

HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines are bringing back "Fixer Upper" but on their new network soon to launch.

"Fixer Upper" stars Chip and Joanna Gaines are casting Season Six of their beloved Waco-based home-improvement show, slated to return to your screens on their new cable channel, Magnolia Network, early next year.

Keep Reading Show less
(City of Austin)

Austin Mayor Steve Adler delivered his annual "State of the City" address Wednesday—virtually.

This story has been updated to include quotes from the mayor's speech.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler delivered his annual "State of the City" address Wednesday evening, in which he discussed the coronavirus pandemic, police funding, the local economy, homelessness, transit and equity issues.

Keep Reading Show less