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Caleb's Story

Seven months into the pandemic, Chrystal Bell called AFC’s Helpline. Her son Caleb, an affectionate, joyful young man, had multiple disabilities that had made it impossible for him to participate in any remote learning for the last half of the year.  

Caleb is deaf and blind and has Autism, and communicates through a tactile system. As Chrystal explains, “if my son cannot see, hear, or speak, how can he be expected to learn sitting in front of a computer all day, when he has no way to interact with his teachers or understand what they’re asking of him?" Faced with no way for him to interact with online lessons, and no opportunity for any in-person services, Chrystal was watching her son regress. In addition, Caleb was about to turn 21, meaning he would soon ‘age out‘ of the DOE’s system and no longer be eligible for educational services, even though he had missed nearly a year of learning at that point. Chrystal wanted to know what her options were. 

When Chrystal reached out to AFC’s Education Helpline, our organization was in the midst of putting together a class action lawsuit against the DOE on behalf of students just like Caleb, who hadn’t received their legally mandated special education services during the pandemic and needed make-up services. Chrystal, already a fierce advocate for her son, signed on to be a named plaintiff in a case that she knew could potentially help thousands of families like her own. 

While we worked on organizing the class action suit, Caleb still had immediate educational needs: he needed make-up services for the entire time that he had been unable to attend school in person, and he needed to know that he could stay in school past the age of 21. In the spring of 2021, AFC spearheaded coalition efforts that led to a change in DOE policy allowing any students who had turned 21 during the pandemic to return to their school the following year. Following that policy win, we helped Chrystal work with Caleb’s school to ensure that Caleb could return for the 2021-2022 school year, after he turned 21. 

Like so many NYC students with disabilities, Caleb still requires the make-up services that our class action is seeking. While the class action suit is ongoing, Chrystal and Caleb continue to be champions for the thousands of NYC students with disabilities who did not receive an appropriate public education during remote learning and need a legal remedy, bringing much-needed attention to the issue and the case. (NPR, NY Daily News, PIX 11)

“Hopefully our differently abled students will benefit from this increased awareness, and appropriate and inclusive programs and services will become more widely available,” says Chrystal of her hopes for AFC's class action suit. "Everyone deserves to be valued and respected. Let's work towards that.“