Schools Are Sending Kids to Virtual Classes as Punishment. Advocates Say That Could Violate Their Rights.

Even before the pandemic, informal student removals were one of the most common complaints to disability rights agencies, advocates say

Colored pencils and school books on dining table
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Before his kindergarten classes begin for the day, Raynardo Antonio Ocasio watches from his mother’s third-floor bedroom window as his classmates line up on the sidewalk below.

“It actually makes him sad,” said his mother, Mayra Irizarry. “He doesn’t understand why he’s not going to the school. He wants that interaction. He wants to be around kids.”

But Raynardo, 6, has been banned from his classroom since September. After attending in-person classes for four weeks last fall at the Zeta Charter School, across the street from his apartment in northern Manhattan, Raynardo was banished to the school’s virtual classes for failing to wear a mask and follow other Covid-19 safety rules.

The school said pushing Raynardo out was necessary to keep teachers and students safe at a scary moment in the pandemic.Administrators across the country made similar decisions as they tried to reopen safely amid fraught politicized debates and angry disputes over masks and public health.

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