'Beyond frustrated:' Fayetteville mother pleads with school officials to reconsider in-class option for daughter with autism

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Cumberland County Board of Education's decision last week to stay online for the remainder of the year garnered a wide array of opinions, including a Fayetteville mother struggling to help her daughter, who has autism, keep up with her curriculum.

Over the weekend, Tracey Natale sent a more than 500-word letter to school board members, expressing her dismay with their decision.

Last Thursday, the school board rejected a blended in-class and online option 6-3. If approved, it would've became an option for parents and students in mid-October. Now, the school district will remain online for the rest of the year.

"She doesn't have the ability to log on to a computer and do her work. I'm constantly having to be there every second," Natale said.

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Natale is talking about her 5th grade daughter, Kinley. Kinley, who was born with microcephaly and eventually diagnosed with autism, is non-verbal and communicates through sign language.

Natale said her daughter requires extra attention in her everyday school work that's extremely difficult to provide from home. In the letter, she described having to balance that with being a wife, having a job, being a foster parent of two and attending graduate school at UNC-Pembroke.

"I've had struggles with her mental health. You know, just being able to stay on task, trying to get her engaged with the virtual learning," Natale said. She told ABC11 the teachers have been doing a fantastic job, given the circumstances, but it's not Kinley's best option for properly learning.

Natale told Eyewitness News that her daughter doesn't fully understand why she's not back in school, constantly signing "school" to her mom.

"I'm constantly saying, 'No, we do school on the computer, remember? We do school on the computer,'" said Natale.
On top of that, Natale said she's worried Kinley will have a tough time adjusting to middle school next school year, if she's away from that environment for too long.

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"What is that going to look for her when she starts 6th grade? She is going to be completely anxious and overwhelmed and not know what's going on," Natale said.

The mother expressed she understands the safety and health aspect of the decision but just wants there to be a choice for families who need their children in the classroom.

"There's precautions that can be done that will help minimize her anxiety, the household anxiety, and where she can learn in a way that best benefits her," Natale said.

Since sending the letter, Natale said she's heard back from one school board member, assuring her they are doing what they can to address the concerns.

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