CHESAPEAKE, Va. – Samantha and Nick Lindstrom know their 7-year-old son Drew thrives inside the classroom, learning the basics like how to communicate.
Drew goes to elementary school in Chesapeake. His parents are emotionally drained over the school district’s recent decision denying Drew’s medical mask exemption.
“Nobody knows the struggles of being a parent of an intellectually disabled child and how we constantly have to fight and stand up for him,” Samantha Lindstrom said as she wiped away tears.
Drew is non-verbal, immobile and has seizures. His parents fear for his safety when he heads off to school.
“He has choked on us several times throughout his life and he’s very silent when he chokes, so to cover his face or mouth puts him at risk for death,” said Samantha Lindstrom.
Nurse Practitioner Sarah Anderson advocated for Drew during a school board meeting Monday night. Drew is Anderson’s patient and she signed off on his medical condition saying wearing a mask puts his life in jeopardy.
“Drew cannot safely wear a mask,” Anderson said. “Drew can choke or aspirate very silently and no adult would ever know.”
The state mandates masks inside the classroom. There are exceptions, however, including students with disabilities, or if they’re unable to remove a mask without help.
All of the exceptions are listed on the school district’s website. Drew falls under several of the categories, so News 3 asked CPS Superintendent Jared Cotton why Drew’s medical request to not wear a mask was denied.
“I can’t explain because I’m not going to talk about an individual case,” said Dr. Cotton. “Many of the people who were denied were because they did not provide the necessary information for us to make that determination. We actually had people who did not complete the forms accurately or did not fill them out, left sections empty and there are others who downloaded documents offline to submit that did not follow our procedures.”
The school administration said they’re required to ask families to consider accommodations like wearing a face shield or double-layer gaiter.
Samantha Lindstrom said those options don’t work in her son’s case.
“I don’t think they’re listening,” she said. “I don’t even think they’re individually looking at each child. I think they’re seeing a form come across and they’re just going through them as quickly as possible to get them done.”
The superintendent said 97 families have applied for accommodations of those 21 have been denied for various reasons. He encourages families to resubmit applications for review.
He added he will follow up on Drew’s case.
“We ultimately want all children to be successful,” Dr. Cotton said. “We don't want any child to be in a classroom wearing a mask when they obviously can't wear that.”
The Lindstroms are hopeful, but is considering legal action if her son’s medical request is once again rejected.
“We will stand by Drew and we will fight until it’s understood, and it’s recognized, and they know him and understand his condition,” said Samantha Lindstrom.
Many families were also upset their forms were denied during the Labor Day holiday right before the start of school and that school officials didn’t reach out to them if they questioned their request.
The granting of mask accommodations is carried out by a team from CPS’ Division of School Leadership and Supports. This division includes, among other departments, the Department of Health Services and the Department of Safety and Security.