Proposed Changes to Sharon Autism Program Concern Parents
School officials schedule Monday night meeting with parents to discuss their questions.
Fourteen Sharon families with autistic children say proposed changes to one program would lead to additional costs for services to students and staff.
The parents outlined their concerns about the school administration's plans for changing the New England Center for Children-Sharon public schools partnership for students on the autism spectrum in a Jan. 24 letter to the school committee.
Superintendent Timothy Farmer told the school board Wednesday night that he feels he and Director of Student Services Steven Kaplan "can address the issues that have been raised" during a meeting with parents at 7 p.m. Monday in the school committee conference room at the Sharon Middle School.
"It would never be our intention to replace one program with something that's inferior," Farmer said.
"It would always be our intention to improve or maintain as we move forward."
School officials have proposed phasing the program into an in-house one with support from the center. The changes would happen over the next two school years, starting next fall, when the school district would provide one of the two teachers, school officials have said. The center provides both teachers now. The program serves 15 students among two classes this year, according to school officials' budget presentation.
The changes would save the district money starting in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the budget presentation.
The parents say a Jan. 17 letter that Kaplan sent them raised several concerns and questions.
"This letter was extremely vague about changes to the program, and most of the information we have obtained about potential plans is from discussions with our children's teachers after receiving this letter," the parents wrote.
"We were all quite shocked to hear about such drastic changes without any prior warning that such changes might take place. Obviously this raises great concern for us as our children have been thriving in the current NECC Partnership Program – making great strides in academics, social inclusion, and improved behaviors," the parents added.
Many students will qualify for such recommended services as speech and occupational therapy, which will cost the town money, if the NECC Partnership ends, the parents wrote.
Also, children with aggressive behaviors wouldn't continue receiving special guidance on such matters as using restrictive gear that promotes child and staff safety, the parents wrote.
"Without regulated use of blocking pads and other retraining procedures, several of these children might not be able to function in the public school setting and might require outplacement to private schools for behavior issues. This could likely be an unforeseen cost of cutting the NECC Partnership Program," they wrote.
Farmer said school officials can address such issues.
"Hopefully, we'll meet the expectations of the parents," he said.