Sebastian and Gabriel Saxon wake up at the same time every day and log into online classes. Sebastian has Cerebral palsy and is diagnosed with autism. Gabriel has hearing loss and wears hearing aids.
The twins’ mother, Judi Saxon, said that Google Meet, the platform used to conduct online classes, has worked well for her sons, who are freshmen in high school this year.
“They’re both rule followers,” Saxon said. “They like routine.”
Saxon said she is involved in her sons’ education and the special needs community. Her husband, Michael Saxon, sits on the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Virginia. She said that switching to all virtual learning was an adjustment, but it had a positive effect on her teenage sons.
“Our family is pretty low-key, and our boys are not super sports fans, and they don’t have a lot of extracurricular activities,” she said. “So they weren’t really missing out on that. And they are homebodies, so they really enjoyed it.”
The COVID-19 era has restructured education for everyone, especially students with disabilities. The lack of peer interaction has negatively impacted some students with disabilities, while allowing others to thrive in the digital classroom, according to parents and educators.
The Virginia Department of Education reported a decrease in fall term enrollment for all students, including students with disabilities. Enrollment for students without and with disabilities declined by 3% and 4% respectively from 2019 to 2020 academic years, according to VDOE.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced guidelines in June for the phased reopening of pre-K through 12th-grade schools for the 2020-2021 academic year. The announcement prioritized special education students to return to in-person education before other groups.
But many school districts, including Richmond, opted to remain remote since the beginning of the school year. Some districts are allowing only students with disabilities to return to in-person learning. VDOE Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Samantha Hollins said that for students with disabilities, the virtual learning environment may be more of a challenge.
State and public agencies are required to provide early intervention, special education, and related services nationally to more than 6.5 million people with disabilities, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The VDOE oversees special education for children and youth with disabilities between ages 3 to 21.
“It has become more challenging of course, but the students’ rights remain,” said VDOE spokesman Charles B. Pyle. “The services that are required to be provided to those students who do not go on holiday because of the pandemic.”
Local school divisions offer special programs and resources for students with disabilities, but remote education may be inaccessible during the pandemic for such students who rely on hands-on education, according to Hollins. There are almost 168,000 students with disabilities in Virginia public schools, according to VDOE’s latest enrollment numbers. Disabilities range from intellectual and emotional to hearing and visual impairments, including the deaf and blind, Hollins said.
“Certain populations of students are more at-risk and not able to access virtual learning or remote education as easily as other students, for example, students with disabilities,” Hollins said.
“When you talk about students with disabilities, there is a pretty wide group of those students.”
Students are often required to attend multiple courses per day via Zoom or Google Meet, including out-of-class assignments. Hollins said her department has provided a lot of information on assistive technology. For example, virtual education may be accessible to a hearing-impaired student with screen reader software.
“Students who have a visual disability, or blind, or a hearing impairment, or deaf, will require special tools to be loaded onto their Chromebook,” Hollins said.
The VDOE sponsors training and technical assistance centers across the state to provide support to teachers test-driving new technology, Hollins said. Public and private special education schools have a collaborative approach to improve educational services for students during COVID-19. According to VDOE, technology provided to public schools is accessible to private educational facilities.
“We’ve had countless meetings with public schools during these difficult times,” said Sarah Ulmer, principal of Grafton School in Midlothian.
Grafton Integrated Health Network is a nonprofit with group homes and schools serving students with autism, intellectual disabilities, and mental health challenges, according to its website.
Seventy-four students are enrolled on the Midlothian campus, Ulmer said. During the COVID-19 mandated closure, students with disabilities received in-person instruction from their residential group homes, while teachers provided virtual instruction to students who do not live on-campus.
Although Grafton School reopened its community day school to in-person instruction five days a week, many parents have not sent their children to school, Ulmer said.
“Our students benefit from learning with hands-on activities,” Ulmer said. “The teachers and clinicians have worked hard to create work activities that are sent home to our students to complete with their families.”
Distance learning plans at the school include individualized sessions throughout the week with the student’s teacher and assigned therapists.
Many educators as well as parents have differing views on online platforms being used for virtual education. Some also question how effective online education is as a whole and said it is a struggle for teachers and students.
Donna Marshall, a special education teacher at Lakeside Elementary in Henrico County, said that both she and many of her students have had issues with the online format.
“It was very difficult for them at first,” Marshall said. “This is such a change for them. Many of them need different things like sensory breaks, and it’s really hard for them to just sit in front of a computer.”
The primary platform Marshall and her students use is Microsoft Teams. She said that while it works well in business settings, she believes that it is less effective in a classroom setting due to audio issues.
Marshall said that some of her students have done well with virtual education, but the format has had a negative impact on other students.
“I have seen several kids majorly regress because they don’t have the in-person connection,” she said.
Marjorie Loya, a Special Olympics coach and a retired special education teacher from Chesterfield County who is now a substitute teacher, said the biggest concern she has for the children learning virtually is the lack of interaction with peers.
“They just don’t see the other kids, which is the shame,” she said. “That’s the big piece that I see that they’re missing. They’re interacting with adults, but they’re not interacting with their peers.”
Loya said she believes that online education in the special needs community is ineffective, especially in the long run.
“I don’t think it’s very good at all because there are so many things, so many aspects that you can’t deliver services for,” she said. “Virtually, you just can’t do it. One of the biggest issues that people with autism have is interacting with other people, and now we’re taking almost all of that away and putting a computer between them.”
Anteal Gargiulo, a special education teacher at Goochland High School in Goochland, said that while some students she teaches have adapted well, others are struggling with the lack of structure and in-person interaction.
“My autistic kids that I thought were going to have the biggest issues actually have been more outgoing and verbal because they are on the computer, by themselves, and in their own space,” she said. “For other kids, the lack of structure has really thrown them.”
As a whole, virtual learning “has not been the best thing” for the special needs community because many students are used to teachers being physically present to help them, Gargiulo said.
“On a case-by-case basis, it’s been good for a couple of our autistic kids. As far as the rest of the kids, it has been a struggle because they don’t have the teachers right there with them.”
By Hunter Britt and India Jones
Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.
Record drop in cancer mortality for second straight year due to improved lung cancer treatment; COVID-19 impact still unknown
Overall cancer death rates in the United States dropped continuously from 1991 through 2018 for a total decrease of 31%, including a 2.4% decline from 2017 to 2018. The news comes from the American Cancer Society’s annual Cancer Statistics, 2021 article, appearing in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and its consumer version, Cancer Facts & Figures 2021. This year marks the American Cancer Society’s 70th anniversary of reporting this data to inform the nation’s fight against cancer.
The report estimates that in the U.S. in 2021, almost 1.9 million (1,898,160) new cancer cases will be diagnosed and 608,570 Americans will die from cancer. These projections are based on currently available incidence and mortality data through 2017 and 2018, respectively, and thus do not account for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer diagnoses or deaths.
“The impact of COVID-19 on cancer diagnoses and outcomes at the population level will be unknown for several years because of the time necessary for data collection, compilation, quality control, and dissemination,” said Rebecca Siegel, MPH, lead author of the report. “We anticipate that disruptions in access to cancer care in 2020 will lead to downstream increases in advanced-stage diagnoses that may impede progress in reducing cancer mortality rates in the years to come.”
Progress in reducing mortality has slowed for other leading causes of death in the U.S. but accelerated for cancer, which is the second-leading cause. An estimated 3.2 million cancer deaths have been averted from 1991 through 2018 due to reductions in smoking, earlier detection, and improvements in treatment, which are reflected in long-term declines in mortality for the four leading cancers: lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate.
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death, accounting for more deaths than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined. Sluggish progress against these latter cancers in recent years contrasts with accelerating reductions in the death rate for lung cancer, from 2.4% annually from 2009 to 2013 to 5% annually from 2014 to 2018. As a result, lung cancer accounted for almost half (46%) of the overall decline in cancer mortality in the past 5 years and spurred a record single-year drop (2.4% from 2017 to 2018) for the second year in a row.
Recent rapid reductions in lung cancer mortality reflect better treatment for the most common subtype – non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Two-year relative survival for NSCLC has increased from 34% for patients diagnosed during 2009 through 2010 to 42% for those diagnosed during 2015 through 2016, including absolute gains of 5% to 6% for every stage of diagnosis. Two-year survival for small cell lung cancer remained at 14% to 15% during this time period.
Cervical cancer is almost 100% preventable through screening and, in recent years, the HPV vaccine, but continues to cause thousands of deaths in the U.S. annually. Approximately 11 women per day died from cervical cancer in 2018, half of whom were in their 50s or younger. It is the second-leading cause of cancer death among women in their 20s and 30s. Although the HPV vaccine holds promise to nearly eliminate cervical cancer with complete population coverage, U.S. vaccination rates remain far below those in other high-income countries: 57% of U.S. adolescent females are up-to-date vs >80% in Australia and >90% in the U.K. Per ACS guidelines HPV vaccinations are recommended in children starting between the ages of 9 to 12, and cervical cancer testing (screening) in young women should begin at age 25.
Other highlights from Cancer Statistics 2021/Cancer Facts & Figures 2021 include:
• Cancer is the leading cause of death in Hispanic, Asian American, and Alaska Native persons.
• The 5-year survival rate for all cancers combined diagnosed during 2010 through 2016 was 68% in White patients versus 63% in Black patients.
• For all stages combined, survival is the highest for prostate cancer (98%), melanoma of the skin (93%), and female breast cancer (90%), and lowest for cancers of the pancreas (10%), liver (20%), esophagus (20%), and lung (21%).
• Survival rates are lower for Black patients than for White patients for every cancer type except pancreas.
• Prostate, lung and bronchus, and colorectal cancers account for 46% of all incident cases in men, with prostate cancer alone accounting for 26% of diagnoses.
• For women, breast, lung, and colorectal cancers account for 50% of all new diagnoses, with breast cancer alone accounting for 30% of female cancers.
• In contrast to declining trends for lung and colorectal cancers, female breast cancer incidence rates increased by about 0.5% per year from 2008 to 2017, which is attributed at least in part to continued declines in the fertility rate and increased body weight.
• Colorectal cancer overtook leukemia in 2018 as the second leading cause of cancer death in men aged 20 to 39 years, reflecting increasing trends in colorectal cancer in this age group, coinciding with declining rates for leukemia.
• The Black-White disparity in overall cancer mortality among men and women combined has declined from a peak of 33% in 1993 (279 vs 211 per 100,000, respectively) to 13% in 2018 (174 vs 154).
• Geographic disparities are widest for the most preventable cancers, such as lung and cervical cancers, for which incidence and mortality rates vary up to 5- and 3-fold, respectively, across states.
“While recent advances in treatment for lung cancer and several other cancers are reason to celebrate, it is concerning to see the persistent racial, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities for highly preventable cancers,” said William G. Cance, M.D., chief medical and scientific officer, American Cancer Society. “There is a continued need for increased investment in equitable cancer control interventions and clinical research to create more advanced treatment options to help accelerate progress in the fight against cancer.”
Article: Siegel RL, Miller KD, Fuchs H, Jemal A. Cancer Statistics, 2021. CA: CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 2021. doi: 10.3322/caac.21654.
URL upon embargo: http://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/caac.21654
Note: Estimates should not be compared year-to-year. They are based on computer models of cancer trends and population and may vary considerably. Cancer trends should be based on age-adjusted cancer incidence and death rates (expressed as the number of cancer deaths per 100,000 people).
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – January 14, 2021
Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response.
- vaccine distribution to 160 sites
- receiving 110,000 vaccine doses per week
- the goal is to distribute 25,000 does per day
- your turn will come, be patient
- important to reopen our schools
- possibility of year-round school
- addressed threats of violence leading up to next week’s inauguration
Briefing begins about 8 minutes into the broadcast.
IRS Criminal Investigation warns Virginia taxpayers about new wave of COVID-19 scams
The Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) is warning Virginia taxpayers about a new wave of COVID-19-related scams as the agency delivers the second round of Economic Impact Payments.
In the last several months, IRS-CI has seen a variety of Economic Impact Payment (EIP) scams and other financial schemes designed to steal money and personal information from taxpayers. Criminals are taking advantage of the second round of Economic Impact Payments – as well as the approaching filing season – to trick honest taxpayers out of their hard-earned money.
“IRS-CI wants to make sure all Virginians are aware of potential scams, in hopes of preventing them from being victimized,” said Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson. “Please stay vigilant of potential scammers looking to steal your identity and your money.”
Some common COVID-19 scams include:
- Text messages asking taxpayers to disclose bank account information under the guise of receiving the $1,200 Economic Impact Payments.
- Phishing schemes using email, letters and social media messages with key words such as “Coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “stimulus” in varying ways. These communications are blasted to large numbers of people and aim to access personally identifying information and financial account information (including account numbers and passwords).
- The organized and unofficial sale of fake at-home COVID-19 test kits (as well as offers to sell fake cures, vaccines, pills, and professional medical advice regarding unproven COVID-19 treatments).
- Fake donation requests for individuals, groups and areas heavily affected by the
- Bogus opportunities to invest in companies developing COVID-19 vaccines while promising that the “company” will dramatically increase in value as a result.
Although criminals are constantly changing their tactics, taxpayers can help protect themselves by acting as the first line of defense. The best way to avoid falling victim to a scam is knowing how the IRS communicates with taxpayers. The IRS does not send unsolicited texts or emails. The IRS does not call people with threats of jail or lawsuits, nor does it demand tax payments on gift cards.
IRS-CI continues investigating hundreds of COVID-19-related cases with law enforcement agencies domestically and abroad and educating taxpayers about scams.
COVID-19 scams should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or submitted through the NCDF Web Complaint Form. The NCDF is a national coordinating agency within the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division dedicated to improving the detection, prevention, investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct related to natural and man-made disasters and other emergencies.
Taxpayers can also report fraud or theft of their Economic Impact Payments to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). Reports can be made online at TIPS.TIGTA.GOV.
Taxpayers who receive unsolicited emails or social media attempts to gather information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, should forward the message to email@example.com. Taxpayers are encouraged not to engage potential scammers online or on the phone.
To learn more about COVID-19 scams and other financial schemes visit IRS.gov. Official IRS information about COVID-19 and Economic Impact Payments can be found on the Coronavirus Tax Relief page, which is updated frequently.
Delaware man facing multiple charges after I-81 pursuit
A New Castle, DE, man is behind bars on multiple charges after he fled law enforcement Sunday, January 10, 2021. Virginia State Police have charged Marquez D. Adams, 27, in Shenandoah County with one felony count of eluding law enforcement, one count of reckless driving by speed, one count of reckless driving failure to maintain control, one count of driving with a revoked license, and one count of driving with a phone in hand.
State Police initiated the traffic stop at approximately 7:50 p.m. as a 2002 BMW 330CI was traveling South on Interstate 81 at the 286 mile-marker in Shenandoah County. The violation was for speeding, as the BMW was driving 100 mph in a posted 70 mph zone.
The pursuit continued onto Rt. 42 in Woodstock, Rt. 11 in Edinburg, and in Mount Jackson before ending back on I-81 South. The BMW eventually ran off the left side of the roadway causing it to collide with a State Police patrol car before being contained on the right shoulder on I-81 at the 263-mile-marker. The driver, Adams, was taken into custody and transported to RSW Regional Jail and held without bond.
No troopers were injured during the course of the pursuit.
The pursuit reached speeds of up to 130 mph.
Governor Northam delivers State of the Commonwealth Address
DMV closed for 2021 State Holidays and Observances
All Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) full-service customer service centers will be closed on the following days for state holidays and observances:
• January 18: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
• February 15: George Washington Day
• May 31: Memorial Day
• June 18: Juneteenth
• July 5: Independence Day
• September 6: Labor Day
• October 11: Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day
• November 2: Election Day
• November 11: Veterans Day
The holiday schedule for Thanksgiving and Christmas will be announced at a later date.
DMV customers are encouraged to save time by taking advantage of more than 40 transactions available online at dmvNOW.com. Appointments are required for in-person transactions.
Also, some DMV Select locations, run mostly by local governments, may operate outside the state holiday closing schedule. DMV Select offices process mostly vehicle-related transactions including registration renewals, titles, and license plates; driver’s licenses and ID card services are not available. To find out if a DMV Select in your area is open on a state holiday and whether an appointment is required, visit dmvNOW.com/DMVSelect.