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Easthampton parents raise concerns about proposed elementary school reorganization

— Transportation, “transition” issues and special education topped the concerns voiced at a forum held earlier this week about a proposed reorganization of the city’s two elementary schools.

More than 60 parents attended Wednesday’s gathering in the Pepin School auditorium and more than a dozen lined up at the microphone to weigh in on the issue.

Administrators have submitted a proposal to the School Committee to place all elementary students in the same grade at the same school starting next fall. Under the present system, students in grades K-4 are enrolled at both Maple and Center/Pepin schools.

Elementary school leaders say the change — first explored four years ago — will cut down on frequent transfers of students between the two schools to balance class sizes and will create a more coordinated curriculum.

“Right now, we do it, but it’s very difficult to meet across the grade levels,” Center/Pepin Principal Robert Orlando told parents. “We’d have all grade level teams in one building.”

Tim Luce, principal of Maple School, said the reorganization would also give all students access to the same facilities, such as the gym and larger library at Pepin.

He added that while many people want to preserve the concept of neighborhood schools, “the number of students truly living within the neighborhood of each of our buildings is minimal.”

Still, many parents said they were worried about how the change will affect children who’ve become attached to their elementary school.

“Continuity of education is important but continuity of relationships is huge,” said Kate Rolland, a member of the Maple School Council.

Six-year-old Grace Pappadellis, who now attends Center/Pepin, was also opposed to a change. “I don’t want to go to Maple School because I like my school better,” she said, during her turn at the mic.

Parents also voiced concerns about transportation and pickup issues for families that will have children enrolled at both schools and how students with special needs will fare under a reorganization.

Still others raised questions about the process — whether the proposal is “a done deal,” as one parent said, or can be shaped by more debate.

“We want to support you,” said Wendy Bloomenthal, whose child will be starting kindergarten in the fall. “But to make such a big decision without community information and just one public forum? Please, please, please don’t just go to the next School Committee meeting and vote on this.”

Her comment met with applause from the crowd.

School Committee member Peter Gunn — one of three board members attending the forum — sought to reassure parents.

“The goal of the School Committee is to advocate for your children,” he said. “We won’t move on an issue until we have considered it thoroughly.”

Superintendent Nancy Follansbee said administrators will work to support families and keep special education services intact if a reorganization is approved.

The reorganization is on the agenda for the School Committee’s March 12 meeting. Follansbee urged parents to attend that session and to continue to contact her and other administrators with questions about the proposal.

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