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In this statewide project, journalists explore the high costs of the pandemic for children and young adults. The project is supported in part by the Hammer Family Charitable Foundation and the Education Writers Association.

Class of COVID-19: How One School For Fragile Kids With Disabilities Navigated Closures

Students at Miami's Early Beginnings Academy in a classroom.
Students at Miami's Early Beginnings Academy in a classroom.

When schools shut down last spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the closures were especially difficult for families of children with disabilities or severe medical conditions. Then came perhaps an even tougher dilemma: what to do when schools reopened in the fall.

MIAMI — Every Monday, dozens of Early Beginnings Academy parents log on for a virtual town hall to get some face time with the small charter school’s principal.

During a recent event, one of the parents — an emergency room nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital — shared her first-hand experience seeing the havoc COVID-19 wreaks on an infected person’s body.

Principal Makeesha Coleman said one reason she asked the nurse to speak to her fellow parents was to reinforce the importance of taking precautions: Avoid large groups. Wear masks. Take the virus seriously.

Coleman said two parents of students at the school have died from COVID-19. So far, though, there hasn’t been a positive case among students or staff members — except one over the summer, when the campus was closed, according to Coleman. Miami-Dade County Public Schools does not report positive cases at charter schools on its district-wide dashboard.

Coleman needs to keep cases at zero. All of her 130 students have disabilities, and about a quarter of them are medically fragile.

“During this time, I've had at least four students who have been hospitalized, two students who are currently in the hospital for surgeries,” Coleman said during an interview in mid-January.

“I serve the most significantly cognitively impacted or medically impacted students in the district.”

Find the rest of the story here.

WLRN education reporter Jessica Bakeman contributed to this story.

This story is part of the Florida Public Media series, "Class of COVID-19: An Education Crisis For Florida's Vulnerable Students." Find the whole project — and sign up for our limited-run newsletter — at

“Class of COVID-19” is being produced through a partnership with the following public media organizations: WLRN (Miami), WGCU (Fort Myers), WFSU (Tallahassee), WUSF (Tampa), WMFE (Orlando) , WUCF (Orlando), WPBT/WXEL (Miami/Boynton Beach), WJCT (Jacksonville), WEDU (Tampa) and WUWF (Pensacola).

The project is supported in part by the Hammer Family Charitable Foundation and the Education Writers Association.

Mia Laurenzo is a 30-year veteran of public television in Miami. She began her career learning every aspect of video production. Currently she is a writer, producer, on-air host and promotions coordinator for TV, radio and the web. Her experiences include producing for a series, special events and historical documentaries. As a native Floridian, she is a perfect fit for South Florida's Storyteller Station, WLRN. She has produced award winning, nationally distributed documentaries like Journey to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Paradewhere one year she followed a high school band and a clown as they prepared for the big day and the next year, she had the privilege of being a clown herself. Previously, she produced Weird Florida: On the Road Again,a sequel to the highly successful show Weird Florida: Roads Less Traveled,where the cast and crew travel over 1,500 miles searching the Sunshine State’s weirdest and wackiest places. On a more serious note and what she considers to be her most important work, she produced Out of Darkness, Into Light, a documentary on child sexual abuse,which delved into the lives of three adult survivors, a show in which she was awarded her first of two Emmys.