News Story

Special Needs Consultant Slams Riverview Schools For Double Standard On Masking

Mask regime appears casual, but a child with challenges is ordered behind plexiglass screens

A mother who has struggled for two years to obtain face mask accommodations for her special needs daughter at the Riverview Community School District, has collected photos of teachers, students and even the superintendent not wearing a face mask while on school property.

Lisa Aponoves collected the photos from various media sites after questioning the district’s approach to her 10th grade daughter. She has provided the district with communications from several physicians who explain why the student can’t tolerate wearing a face mask.

The school district’s response to the mother’s request has been an ultimatum. She must, it says, keep her child at home for remote instruction only. Alternately, it says, her daughter can attend in person but must sit six feet from other students and be surrounded by plexiglass screens. And then put a mask on when she comes out from behind the screens.

Aponoves has collected photos of students not wearing masks in classrooms, teachers walking the hallways and not wearing a mask, students not wearing masks in the cafeteria, and student-athletes grouped together in the hallway mask-free. She also found a photo of the school district superintendent posing on school district property with another adult and a student. No one in that photo was wearing a mask.

Aponoves has provided the school district with recommendations and diagnoses from the family doctor, as well as a neuropsychologist from the Henry Ford Health System, documenting various medical issues the student has. Michigan Capitol Confidential has reviewed these communications and diagnoses, with permission from the mother. Michigan Capitol Confidential is not naming the 10th-grade student, who has yet to attend school this year, either in-person or at home.

Maria Giancotti, a Birmingham-based special education consultant engaged by the family, says the conflict is the school’s fault.

The school district has refused to comment. Superintendent Russell E. Pickell said in an email, “The Riverview Community School District can not, and will not, discuss individual students and requests for accommodations.”

Aponoves said the district refused to accept the diagnoses and recommendations from her family doctor or the Henry Ford Health System neuropsychologist. Instead, she said, it said the girl must see a pediatrician of its own choosing to authenticate the diagnoses.

The student had surgery in mid-November to correct some breathing issues. A specialist wrote that the surgery prevents the girl from having anything on her face until Jan. 10. The school responded by saying that the accommodations would not be revised, and no other option was available.

Aponoves said that school officials recently sent her an email warning that her daughter’s absence from school is a violation of Michigan’s compulsory school attendance law. She believes the school district’s actions are illegal, egregious and contrary to their stated purpose.

“There is a very big double standard going on here and inconsistency in the COVID-19 mitigation measures,” she said.

Aponoves is currently considering legal action against the school, saying it is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

She tried obtaining a religious exemption from the district’s order in August, but the district denied it. The official response, signed by the superintendent in an Aug. 31 letter, said, “It is determined that the mask requirement is religion neutral and does not address a religious practice, therefore no exemptions are made for religious reasons.”

On Sept. 1, two of the student’s doctors wrote a joint statement, saying she “has several medical diagnoses that prevent her from safely wearing a facial shield/mask through the day.” It was reviewed by Michigan Capitol Confidential and mentions several medical ailments.

The doctors noted that the girl is a special needs student who has an Individualized Education Program. Citing a COVID-19 emergency order from the Wayne County health department, they wrote, “Persons with developmental conditions of any age attending school for whom it has been demonstrated that the use of a face covering would inhibit the person’s access to education. These are limited to persons with an Individual Education Plan.”

Pickell, the superintendent, emailed the student’s mother on Sept. 9, 2020, stating that he wanted the school district to talk to the student’s doctors directly. At that time, Pickell offered Aponoves the option to have her daughter taught over the internet.

In September 2021, the district offered to allow the child 10-minute breaks from wearing a face mask. Alternately, it said, she could wear a face shield, with access to a social worker.

In October 2021, the district sent the family an email offering to place the child in a location six feet from her peers and surrounded by plexiglass, behind which she could remove a mask. The student would have to put the mask back on if she moved around the classroom.

Megan Colligan is the director of the Woodhaven-based Cooperative for Special Education Services, which serves Riverview and several other school districts. In an Oct 13, 2021, letter, she wrote, “Please note, however, that [the student] has been welcomed to attend school. It has been the family’s choice not to send her to school despite the accommodations that have been outlined by Dr. Pickell.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.