Photo: Clare Dignan / Hearst Connecticut Media
Photo: Clare Dignan / Hearst Connecticut Media
In a meeting with parents at Alice Peck school, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Chris Melillo and others from district administration spoke with parents, many of them members of the Special Education Parent Teacher Association, about parents’ concerns.
Many of the parents at the meeting have children who are placed in instructional intervention centers, which are small classes adapted to children’s special ne. Some children attend only IIC classes while others also take typical classes.
Under the current model, students can be moved, and often are, every school year to a new school building depending on what their educational planning and placement team meeting determines. There are no district policies around IICs because they are often individualized to the student, Melillo said.
Several parents said this is the opposite of what children with special ne should be experiencing. Valen Grandelski, a SEPTA mother, said her son is in preschool at Alice Peck and will be entering kindergarten next year, but she doesn’t know where if the model doesn’t change.
“We’ll be in the same cycle of not knowing and he’ll have to re-adapt to an entirely new school environment,” she said. “It denies children the opportunity to build relationships. The social and emotional impact is harming our children.”
Mellillo said the district is moving away from the current model as soon as the upcoming school year, but “we can’t say that kids will never be moved again, especially in this upcoming year as we work to align the classes.” Melillo said instead of moving students around, they’re planning to move teachers as needed so children can graduate to the next level in the same location.
“It’s complicated and we know that it’s something we want to address,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll align our programming to let parents know sooner about which schools their kids will be placed in.”
Melillo said the district will let families know by the end of June or in July where their children will be placed, but that it’s difficult to let parents know earlier because the IICs depend on hiring, enrollment and individual ne.
Kim Pierce, director of Pupil Personnel Services, said the school encourages families to work in their Planning and Placement Team to address parents concerns about inclusion. She also said the schools are planning to have more inclusion for kids in IIC classes.
“We need your input,” Pierce said. “We also need you to be patient with us.”
“We haven’t been the most inclusive but we’re working to be better,” Melillo said.
One parent said the workforce overall ne to be more skilled in teaching special education because there have been many instances in which teachers or paraprofessionals have refused special education students or been exclusionary.
Lisa Nichols, whose son is in a second-grade IIC class, said his ne aren’t being met and that the three different schools he has been in haven’t been equally inclusive.
“This is the most vulnerable population,” Nichols said. “I’m thinking about moving because of the schools, even if he weren’t in special education.” She said she doesn’t see more inclusion programming happening and that she and others walked away from the meeting with no real answers.
Grandelski said the district is doing the bare minimum by thinking about the issues and has yet to see anything concrete in writing that addresses them.
“Their good intention is not good enough and we need to see some concrete action,” she said.
“It’s not for a lack of trying,” Melillo said. He said the district is investing time to make it work and planning the best they can.
Further down the road, the district’s Reimagine, Restructure, Results Initiative — known as 3R — that addresses racial imbalance, enrollment and decreased school funding, will change the model by housing all IIC classes in the Wintergreen building recently repossessed by the town. Wintergreen will take on all 17 IIC classes in addition to being a neighborhood school.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but at the end of the day, they need to be able to get what they need where they are,” Grandelski said. “That should be the longterm goal. I think more ne to be done to get us where we are and having more meaningful integration.”
“You need to be doing something right now about the stability because moving them from school to school is causing harm,” she said. “It’s denying them the opportunity to be part of their school community. That’s the type of community our children with disabilities are being denied. It’s morally and ethically wrong.”
Melillo said there aren’t always enough students in one home school to fill an entire IIC class, so keeping students in their home schools can’t always work in practice because the building couldn’t accommodate it that many classes or there aren’t enough special education teachers.
“Working with SEPTA has made the district more aware of a lot of the issues we weren’t focusing on enough,” Melillo said. “We want to continue having communication with parents and we’re committed to meeting over the summer.”