Newsline Volume 31, Number 1

Technology and Educational Innovation:
Children with complex health needs and access
to high quality public education

By Carol Keirstead

What does access to a high quality public education mean for students who cannot attend school because of complex health conditions?

I am the parent of a nine year old with congenital muscular dystrophy who is medically fragile. I have a doctorate in education, more than 25 years of public education experience, and I don’t have an answer for my daughter or for others like her. I pose this question with two underlying assumptions. First, I assume that I am not alone. There are likely hundreds of parents in Massachusetts with children who have neuromuscular, mitochondrial, metabolic, or any number of medical conditions that prevent them from being able to attend school. Second, I assume that children with complex health conditions are not provided with the same educational opportunities as their peers.

Technology and educational innovation provide opportunities for students to engage in learning in ways we had not imagined possible a few years ago. Through virtual schooling, webcam and other technologies supported by new educator roles, students for whom physically getting to school is not possible should be able to “go to” school – anytime – anywhere – such as in a hospital room, at home in bed, or at a homeless shelter. We just have to make it happen.

In May, an energetic cross-section of stakeholders from the state education agency, the Federation for Children with Special Needs, state government, education collaboratives, and others met to discuss ideas and generate possible courses of action to support the education of students with complex health needs. We are beginning to collect data, learn about practices in the field, and strategies for virtual educational possibilities.

If you are a parent of a student with a complex health condition, we want to hear from you! Please take a few minutes to complete a short survey at On behalf of our kids, let’s help them learn where and when they can!

If you want to get involved in this effort, or would like more information, please call or e-mail the MA Family-to-Family Health Information Center at the Federation at 1-800-331-0688, ext. 210, or e-mail