Last semester, Sophia Martino, a senior at the University of Missouri who has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair, chose to personally attend two lab classes. In May, she became ill with Covid-19, despite being vaccinated.
Even after that tough year, she plans to take personal classes this fall. But knowing the university has already allowed a handful of students to take classes remotely this year, she said, makes her feel better about attending in-person classes because accommodations are there if she needs them.
“The idea of distance education as accommodation is something newer than the pandemic,” said Ashley Brickley, director of the university’s disability center.
Indeed, online classes are not a panacea, as Cory Lewis, a biology major at Georgia Military College, discovered last year. Mr Lewis has sickle cell disease, which can cause fatigue, chronic pain and organ damage and makes him particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases. He was hospitalized four times last year, including once for kidney failure, and spent months in persistent pain.
If it had been a normal academic year, he might have had to withdraw from classes, he said. Instead, he could remain enrolled. One enterprising biology professor even mailed home lab kits, packed with all the supplies he needed to conduct a variety of hands-on experiments.
But Mr. Lewis was having trouble concentrating in his other distance classes, and his grades were deteriorating, he said. So he plans to return to personal learning this fall, even though he is concerned about his health.
“I just learn a lot better when I’m really in front of the teacher,” said Mr. Lewis, who is fully vaccinated but said some of his classmates weren’t. “But knowing that my health could be at risk, especially with the Delta variant, I don’t know what will happen to school now.”