Athol-Royalston special ed. council airs concerns 

  • Athol Royalston SEPAC co-Chairs Meghan Cote, left, and Julie McDonald last week presented the Regional School Committee with a list of concern relative to the district's special education program. Listening, from left, are committee members Carla Rabinowitz and Mitch Grosky, Business Manager Lynn Bassett, school district attorney Fred Dupere, Superintendent Darcy Fernandes, committee Chair Lee Chauvette, and Administrative Assistant Sheryl Femino. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

Published: 12/26/2019 1:00:30 AM
Modified: 12/26/2019 1:00:15 AM

ATHOL – Two of the co-chairs of the Athol-Royalston Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) brought several of the organization’s concerns to the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee at its recent meeting. Issues brought to the committee by parents Meghan Cote and Julie McDonald range from turnover in the district’s special education staff to the lack of a policy governing the use of restraints which complies with state law.

In her opening remarks, Cote told the panel that the local Special Education Parent Advisory Council has the right to be consulted “in decisions that involve us.”

To that end, Cote said the organization had been given a copy of the district’s plan to lower the rate of staff turnover in the special education program.

“We are in agreement that this is a serious concern that directly impacts our special needs cohort of student,” she said, “and we appreciate the attention to this matter. However, we would like to voice our concerns that the Athol-Royalston SEPAC is not included in this plan; yet school councils, parents, and PTOs (parent-teacher organizations) are, in spite of (our) repeatedly requesting for our voices to be heard and to be consulted in decisions that affect our special needs students in unison with their families.”

Cote went on to stress that students and parents tend to form bonds and develop trust with one another as they strive to ensure a “successful and meaningful” education for those students with special needs.

“For some children with disabilities and the majority of (their) parents,” she explained, “it is extremely emotionally taxing and heartbreaking when we lost an employee who has championed for our child.”

Cote went on to state that for the period between 2017 and last week’s meeting, “We have a confirmed list of 12 administrators, one dean of students, five administrative assistants/secretaries, with a total of 65 staff members overall, who are no longer with the district. There is something gravely wrong that is deeply rooted in our district.”

She said the Athol-Royalston Special Education Parent Advisory Council ​​​​​​​wants a valued, meaningful role in helping the district to develop an effective recruitment and retention program for district staff.

In relation to another issue, Cote quoted a district policy which currently allows for mechanical or chemical restraint of students if such action is authorized by a physician and approved in writing by a student’s parent or guardian. State law, however, states explicitly that mechanical and medication restraint and seclusion “shall be prohibited in public education programs.”

Other concerns of the parent group include the improper use of IEP (individualized education plan) amendments, improper placement of special needs students into the general district curriculum, improper use of exclusionary timeouts, non-compliance with IEP timelines, insufficient intervention for struggling students, and several other issues.

Following the presentation by Cote and McDonald, school district attorney Fred Dupere suggested that he meet with Director of Pupil Services Kathryn Clark, who oversees the special education program, and representatives from the Athol-Royalston Special Education Parent Advisory Council​​​​​​​ to discuss the policies and procedures in question. The first such meeting has been scheduled for some time in January.


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