Parents of special education students at Meadowbrook Farms have learned the school is losing two special ed teachers next year and some children are being moved to Frenchtown.
“We were informed over the weekend by way of a letter from Brad Wilson that our son is being transferred to Frenchtown in the fall,” said Staci Kolb. “I have since learned that this transfer decision was made without any input from his IEP team at Meadowbrook. In fact, his team was not even informed of these changes until Tuesday.”
Brad Wilson is the director of student services, which includes special education, for the district. An IEP is an “individualized education plan” – a document updated yearly that spells out every aspect of a particular student’s program (including therapies, goals and special accommodations).
Kolb said her son, who has Down syndrome, has thrived at Meadowbrook, where he was been since preschool. He is in first grade now, so he would spend one year at Frenchtown before moving up to Hanaford or Eldredge.
Consistency and repetition are so important for kids like Charlie, Kolb said. “As a result of this transfer, Charlie will be attending three different schools in an 18-month period.” She worried it would set him back two years.
Other parents are upset because their children will lose the special education teacher – Lore Gray – they see as the linchpin of their children’s program. Gray is being transferred to Cole Middle School. She has taught special education with an emphasis on autism at Meadowbrook for more than a decade. Under her supervision, Meadowbrook established a model demonstration class for children with autism.
According to the new plan, Meadowbrook will no longer have a “self-contained” class next year – a class exclusively for children with special needs.
Any K-2 student needing a self-contained classroom will be sent to Frenchtown, regardless of their address. But that leaves some children with autism at Meadowbrook without Gray.
“You lose Lore Gray and you basically wipe out the autism program,” said Saskia Nilsen, who has two children at Meadowbrook. “She really is the heart and soul and glue of that program…. She’s the one who keeps track of all the little details that make the day possible.”
Meadowbrook Principal Neil Marcaccio said Gray’s expertise would be missed.
According to Wilson, the changes come because next year there will be a greater need at Cole Middle School for special education teachers.
Nicole Bucka confirmed that Wilson told her there’s a population bottleneck working up into the middle school. But that prompted questions from Bucka that have yet to be answered: “Why was this bubble of kids never discussed? Why would you not make this more of a conversation with the stakeholders?”
The issue did not come up at recent public School Committee meetings. Wilson told Bucka as long as budget was not involved, he did not need to involve the School Committee.
Wilson did not return a request for a comment about the specific changes. Supt. Victor Mercurio said via email changes were guided by students’ IEPs.
“Staffing decisions involve assessment of student need within and across buildings on the district,” said Mercurio. “All of these decisions require the consideration of myriad factors. As it relates to any discussion and/or decision regarding the support services associated with special needs, the major catalyst for this remains the individual education plan document.”
Mercurio did not respond to a question about why parents or the EG Special Ed Advisory Committee were not consulted earlier in the process.
The EG SEAC was re-established just this spring. It is meant to be a liaison group between the school administration and parents of children with special needs.
Staci Kolb said when she voiced her concerns about the suitability of a new program for her son, Wilson told her the town must give her son an “appropriate education,” not an exceptional education.
“I question whether the Town of East Greenwich ever decided to believe that the bare minimum is ‘appropriate’ or acceptable for any of our children,” Kolb said. “How many parents in the general education population are told that the town isn’t required to do the best it can for their child, so we aren’t going to even try?”
She added, “Charlie is a success story. He is doing well. Let him stay where he is.”