One week after the school department’s announcement of changes in the special ed program at Meadowbrook Farms raised parent alarms, administrators said Monday children will not be adversely affected by the changes.
“I have faith that the decisions are made in the best interests of kids,” said Supt. Victor Mercurio. “Every spring when we make any changes, there are always questions.”
At issue is the transfer next school year of special ed teacher Lore Gray and one other special ed teacher from Meadowbrook to Cole Middle School, and the transfer of three special ed students from Meadowbrook to Frenchtown. Parents found out via letter from the district or from the school administration early last week and the response was immediate.
Gray came to Meadowbrook 14 years ago to establish a program for children with autism. It was initially called the Autism Program and later changed to the Social Communication Disorder Program. But two superintendents and four special education directors later, neither Mercurio or Brad Wilson (the current special ed director) said they were aware there was any such program at Meadowbrook.
In the wake of the announcement, however, emails swirled and parents took to social media to vent their anger and frustration, including this comment from one parent on the EG Parents for Excellence Facebook page:
“According to the mission statement East Greenwich Public Schools is suppose to be ‘committed to creating an environment that ensures quality teaching . . . enabling all learners to pursue academic excellence.’ The present initiative in no way fulfills this mission. Please let the school committee and the school leaders know that these changes are unacceptable.”
Parents who’s children are being taught by Gray see her departure as the dismantling of a successful autism program and worry whether or not there will be adequate staffing at the school next year. Wilson says there will be adequate staffing.
“No IEP is being changed,” he said. Gray’s students will be served by the two remaining special education teachers at Meadowbrook.
He said there would no longer be a self-contained classroom at Meadowbrook. (Students in a self-contained classroom spend most of their time with that class as opposed to other students with special needs who are in a regular ed classroom but receive extra help and/or are pulled out for supporting services. IEPs are “individualized education plans” used as a blueprint for a special education student’s instruction.)
Frenchtown, which serves the same kindergarten-through-second-grade age group as Meadowbrook, will have a self-contained classroom which will accommodate students from Meadowbrook needing that environment come September.
Wilson said he understood the news was upsetting to parents. He said the reason the news was not delivered in a more typical team-meeting setting was because the decision to make these changes was only determined a couple of weeks ago and arranging multiple team meetings in the final weeks of school would have been difficult. Team meetings usually involve the parents, the special education teacher, a regular education teacher, an administrator, and any specialists (for instance, speech, occupational, and physical therapists) who work with the student.
Wilson said he preferred to get the news out there as quickly as possible.
He said the reason for the changes was because of the domino effect that took place when it was decided during recent IEP meetings to move special ed students from Meadowbrook to Hanaford, and other special ed students from Hanaford were transitioned to Cole for September, bringing the number of students at Cole to unacceptable levels for one teacher in one classroom.
Wilson said with those changes the number of special ed students at Meadowbrook had dropped to a level where the comparison with the number of students at Cole made the changes at Meadowbrook necessary.
“It may not be what people have been used to,” he said, “but we can reasonably accommodate those kids in other settings.”
Wilson said last year staff had to be moved from the high school and Frenchtown to Hanaford and Eldredge after the third graders were moved up to those two schools.
“Meadowbrook was able to hold on to special services staff through last year’s grade shift,” he said.
Wilson said he understands his decisions have not been popular.
“These decisions are not easy,” he said. “There’s wear and tear on families, wear and tear on the teachers involved, and on me.”