Parents of special education students at Saratoga Springs High School are expressing concern about proposed changes in services for their children at the school.
About 20 parents attended this week’s Board of Education meeting to discuss their fears.
Lois Celeste-McAlpine, a member of the district’s School Requiring Academic Progress task force, said the plan would “mainstream” ninth- and 10th-grade students currently in special education classes into larger, regular “collaborative” classrooms this fall.
She said high school children “with IQs as low as 65 to 70, functioning sometimes at an elementary level” will be “mainstreamed back into larger classrooms with all regular education students with only some consultant support.”
At present these students are in classes with one teacher and one aide and a maximum of 15 students.
Celeste-McAlpine’s comments and comments of parents of special education students came after a school board presentation on ways to improve the test scores and graduation rates of a subgroup of high school students.
Superintendent Janice White said this subgroup of between 50 and 60 special education students has performed lower than required by state regulations.
High School Principal Frank Crowley and Michael Piccirillo, assistant superintendent for secondary education, gave a status report on improving the performance of this small group of students.
The recommendations come from findings made by the SRAP task force, which spent many months working on the test score problems and visiting high schools in the region that have solved such problems.
The administrators recommended capping the size of the collaborative classes at about 20 students next school year with a “flexible and fluid” delivery of extra support.
The district would also “closely monitor student enrollment in collaborative classes, so no more than a third of those students” would be special education or special needs students.
Celeste-McAlpine and several other parents said they saw this proposal as a reduction in special education services at the high school.
They said it will cause problems with the education of both special education students and regular education students.
School Board President Frank Palumbo said this is not the district’s intention.
“What we are doing is trying to find the best way to deliver services [to the special education students] to reach this standard,” Palumbo said.
The standard he referred to is being removed from the state’s School Requiring Academic Progress (SRAP) list.
The high school has been on this list for the past few years because of lower than required scores by the special education students on math and English tests and a lower than required graduation rate.
Palumbo said the group of special education students on which the testing is done changes from year to year.
One year the group of 50 to 60 students will do quite well on the standardized tests, while the next year the scores will be much lower, meaning the school remains on the SRAP list, Palumbo said.
Celeste-McAlpine said she is also concerned about what she describes as a “struggle between administration and special education teachers” at the high school.
“It’s not a healthy atmosphere,” she said.
School board members took turns saying they want to see the best possible education for all district students.
Will Martin, board vice president, said he and his fellow members care deeply about the special education students at the high school.
“We are talking about lives and success,” Martin said. He said he feels there is a lack of proper communication between the district and the concerned parents.
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