Board Of Education Passes Self-Study Proposal, No Action On Panama Trip
The Newtown Board of Education (BOE) met on the evening of September 18, at the Municipal Center, with a full agenda that included the discussion and action for the Self-Study Special Education Proposal and the Newtown High School teacher’s scouting trip to Panama.
During the night’s first round of public participation, the Board heard from nearly half a dozen members of the community who had concerns pertaining to the Self-Study Proposal for special education. All had personal experiences with the town’s special education resources and expressed their discouragement.
Parent Liza Mecca was the first to go before the Board and said that many families have lost faith with the district and are considering moving out, because they feel their children’s needs are not being met.
Following Ms Mecca was single mother Michelle Pranger, who said she disagreed with the Self-Study Proposal and believes the estimated $10,500 needed for it would be “a complete waste of taxpayer’s money, because it will yield no significant information.”
She added, “We’ve entrusted our son’s and daughter’s educational [and] social-emotional well-being to your decision making, because we believe that each of you would put all of our children first… we need your immediate action today.”
Other community members spoke up in agreement about needing change now rather than later, each elaborating that their children who rely on the special education system in the Newtown Public Schools are regressing as a result of it.
After giving the public the opportunity to openly share their thoughts, and going over other agenda matters, the Board dedicated time for further discussion of the Self-Study Proposal.
Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue said she is “a bit disappointed” by the feedback the proposal is receiving and said both consultants for the program have expertise in mediation with families and districts.
According to the Self-Study Proposal handout that was available to those who attended the BOE meeting, the consultants being referenced are Gail Mangs and Maria Synodi, who recently retired from the Connecticut State Department of Education and worked as education consultants in the Bureau of Special Education.
“We need to start somewhere, and this is a really good place to start,” Dr Rodrigue said.
BOE chair Michelle Embree Ku motioned to approve the Self-Study Proposal as it is presented and asked if other members had comments to add before moving forward.
BOE member Dan R. Delia spoke up asking, “I just want to know is something being done right now to deal with issues that parents are bringing up, because they’re real issues and, frankly, I’m very concerned. I want to know if stuff is being done right now.”
Pertaining to confidentiality issues, Dr Rodrigue replied that a letter was sent out in the last year detailing what their internal protocols are, like parent notifications.
“I can’t talk about personnel issues and how they are dealt with, but those are internal issues that we deal with if we feel that there has been an employee that has had an issue more than once. But again, that is something we don’t talk about in public,” she explained.
BOE member Rebekah Harriman-Stites said that though she thinks the study is a good idea, she still has concerns about confidentiality and wants more clarity on how its being addressed.
Dr Rodrigue followed Ms Harriman-Stites’ request by saying they can plan for another BOE agenda where they can go over more about what the protocols are. She also said she will send out the letter that she was referring to earlier in the meeting to the rest of the Board to review.
After further discussion among the members, the BOE unanimously voted to pass the Self-Study Proposal.
At the end of the meeting, a second round of public participation was available, to which a couple parents took the opportunity to reiterate their frustration.
Parent Alissa Heizler-Mendoza spoke for a second time that evening about the negative experiences her family has faced with the special education system in the town. She explained her son, who has severe dyslexia, has been denied services for two years, and it has resulted in her decision to “get out of this district.”
Earlier this month, Newtown High School educators presented a proposal to the BOE about a scouting trip to Panama to possibly develop a new student program through Newtown International Center for Education (NICE).
The trip would be similar to one that took place about a year ago to India that created an opportunity for students to visit the country in the 2016-17 school year.
During the BOE meeting on September 18, Dr Rodrigue explained more about the proposed trip saying, “Even though we are calling it ‘scouting,’ it really is as if you would send staff members to a week of training or a conference to develop a program.”
The educators will be traveling there to make sure students will be safe and that it will be educationally sound.
She added that after the India scouting trip, the educators had a better understanding of what aspects to keep and determined other elements of the program to eliminate.
Originally there was a motion to pass the approval, but upon further discussion about there being no particular policy in place that details the role the BOE plays in the process of approving the trip, the members withdrew the motion.
As a result, the BOE took no action on the Panama scouting trip and will leave the decision up to the high school to plan and finance it, which it can do so with its NICE account if it so chooses.
However, if the trip is proposed for students, Ms Ku explained after the meeting, the BOE would be involved in its approval.
The next public BOE meeting is scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, October 2, in the Municipal Center.
Those interested in learning more or contacting the Newtown Board of Education, can visit newtown-ct.gov/board-education.
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