Potential changes to Henry schools special education classes draw parents’ ire

McDONOUGH — Parents of special needs students in Henry County are angry and frustrated over an announcement Monday from Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis concerning the district’s plan to restructure special needs classes.

Davis said that Exceptional Student Education was “stretched far too thin.”

“Quite frankly, it had ballooned beyond what we could handle,” she said.

Davis added that some “inaccuracies have emerged” surrounding possible changes to the ESE programs.

On Wednesday, district officials posted to the school system’s official Facebook page that “preliminary thoughts shared last week with administrators and teachers included staffing proposals designed to better align resources” to ensure that “our best teachers had the broadest impact on the most students.”

Officials said the district did not share an overall plan for students because staffing allocations had not been completed.

“Therefore, any information shared with parents by staff was incomplete and potentially not accurate.”

According to many parents at Monday night’s regular meeting, they learned about the proposed changes on social media.

Though district officials have not released any details about their plans, a meeting was held with ESE educators on Monday afternoon.

“We held a personal conversation with special educators who specifically serve students in specialize units,” Davis said at the board’s regular monthly meeting. “In an effort to really be human and courteous to our professionals we wanted do provide a moment in time where we just started to talk about how we provide this most essential service to our community.”

According to parents and teachers who spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion, many said they were told to “stay quiet” about possible changes. Something with which many have taken issue.

“We were told not to say anything to parents, it will be handled by the county,” said Patricia Buckner, a teacher at Eagle’s Landing Middle School.

Buckner said on Monday she was notified that after 17 years at ELMS, 12 of those as a special education teacher, she would be moved.

Parent Mark Howell said he learned about the changes in a Facebook forum.

“You should have sent out a letter,” Howell said. “We don’t know the details of what you’re planning to do. We need a formal explanation of what you’re doing.”

Howell added his daughter covets stability and continuity.

“Right now, I don’t know if you plan to uproot her,” Howell said. “You change our lives without telling us. We need to know.”

The Rev. David Armstrong-Reiner said he was opposed to any changes. His son, Christopher is on the autism spectrum and attends Union Grove High School.

“Moving our special education students around, especially on the autism spectrum, is detrimental to the health and stability of our students,” he said.

Reiner urged the board to reconsider.

Many parents echoed Reiner’s remarks, stating their children loved their teachers and friends.

“Moving them is terrible, and it’s not going to work,” said parent Michelle Parker. “I hope you reconsider. We’re going to fight you. We need you to support us, not hurt us.”

Ola High School teacher Rachael McGaha teaches mildly intellectually disabled classes. She said she was told she would have to move to Luella High School

“All I could do was cry,” McGaha said.

She called the situation unfortunate, suggesting that board members spend time in the ESE classrooms.

“We’re so passionate about what we do,” McGaha said. “We know (the students). These kids are part of a community.

“All the teachers are in a state of shock and so are parents,” she added.

On Facebook HCS officials said that no services are being cut or reduced “only some (not all) students might find their services at a different location next year.”

Davis assured the community on Monday that all teachers would have a job.

Officials added that the district was making phone calls to speak directly with parents to share “accurate/correct information and answer the questions we understand they may have.”

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Education reporter Heather Middleton joined the Clayton News and Henry Herald in 2002.

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