District officials plan to relocate the Life Skills program from Hillcrest and Newtown elementary schools to Richboro Elementary next school year.
A planned move of a Council Rock special-education program has some parents upset over the disruption and other negative impacts they fear it will have on their children in the program.
Citing space and other issues, district officials say they will move the Life Skills program starting next school year. It’s now located at two elementary schools, Hillcrest in Northampton and Newtown in Newtown Township, but will be relocated to one, Richboro, in Northampton, starting in 2020-21.
Superintendent Robert Fraser addressed the move and the concerns it has created in a letter sent to all Hillcrest and Newtown parents and to this news organization Wednesday afternoon. The relocation affects 17 students, he said.
Newtown Township resident Tim Flanagan, whose third-grade son attends the program at Newtown Elementary, wrote in an email that prior to 2017, Life Skills was held at Hillcrest and was then expanded to include both that school and Newtown.
“This allowed for Life Skills students to attend elementary schools within or close to their neighborhoods,” Flanagan wrote. “Many Life Skills students attend both regular and Life Skills classes within a given day, depending on the subject and the student.
“All of the parents of these Life Skills students are extremely upset at the school district’s lack of consideration at to how these children would be affected by moving to yet another elementary school within the district. Many of the parents of regular-education students at both Hillcrest and Newtown Elementary are very upset at this plan, as well. They feel that this sends a frightening message to their children that those with special needs aren’t considered on the same level as those without special needs.”
Dan Boyle, whose fourth-grade son is in the program at Newtown, expressed similar concerns. Both he and Flanagan said they were also upset at the way they claim parents were notified of the move.
“The school district did not inform the parents of this plan until several parents requested a meeting with school officials,” Flanagan wrote.
“I don’t agree with what’s being proposed,” Boyle added. “Even more than that, I don’t agree with how it’s been handled and that’s just as much of the frustration. The way we found out was by word of mouth and then we had to contact people from the school district to confirm. They didn’t even contact us directly.”
Fraser said that wasn’t the case. He said that as soon as it was known for sure that a relocation of the program was necessary, all parents of Life Skills students were notified by a letter that also invited them to a meeting to discuss the move.
“If word trickled out (before the notification by letter) somehow, that’s regretful if that did happen,” the superintendent said.
In his letter to all Hillcrest and Newtown parents sent Wednesday afternoon, Fraser wrote that the “decision was not taken lightly by the educational professionals charged with making the recommendation about the location of these classes.”
State rules on special education were some of the factors involved in the decision, he added.
“Under regulations of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, we may not operate a special-education classroom where the age range of the students exceeds three years,” Fraser wrote. “Unfortunately, this year that occurred and we are currently not able to obtain an exception to this regulation. Thus we must reconfigure our classes.
“In an effort to create more continuity in programming and avoid transferring between schools for the primary level LSS (Life Skills) setting and the intermediate LSS setting, we have decided to relocate both LSS classes to Richboro Elementary School. This has been presented to and discussed with the families of these students.”
In a telephone conversation, Fraser clarified that primary level is considered kindergarten to grade 2 and intermediate level grades 4- to 6, and that children in third grade can be either.
Right now, one Life Skills class is held at Hillcrest and Newtown, and each class includes children at both the primary and intermediate levels, a violation of the PDE rule, the superintendent said. Moving the program to Richboro will correct the situation by allowing separate classes for children at each level, he added.
” … Richboro has a history of serving students with special needs and will certainly welcome these students to the Richboro Elementary community,” Fraser wrote in the letter.
Fraser added he was confident the Richboro ES staff and students will make the transition as seamless as possible for the Life Skills students moving there.
“It is our educational judgment that in the long run, this move will be beneficial to all students,” he wrote.
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