Solution on horizon over Bridge Street School controversy? Meetings called

  • Bridge Street School Northampton. gazette file photo

Published: 1/18/2018 11:44:23 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Another chapter in the controversy over the rollout of a new special education model at Bridge Street School has arrived. Yet movement toward a solution may be afoot.

On Thursday, Bridge Street School Principal Beth Choquette sent a letter to school families breaking down enrollment, staffing and special education funding at Bridge Street and Northampton’s three other elementary schools, among other numbers.

She also announced a Jan. 24 meeting between staff and administration, as well as a Bridge Street School Council-hosted parent meeting on the information in the letter that will be held in the school’s library on Jan. 25 at 6 p.m.

The letter stems from a meeting last Friday, which was called in response to a grievance filed by the Northampton Association of School Employees alleging an unsafe work environment at Bridge Street, and the grievance’s subsequent media coverage.

Teachers and parents at Bridge Street have alleged that the version of the inclusion model rolled out in the district’s elementary schools this year has created a chaotic school environment, and that injuries have resulted from this.

The inclusion model sees special needs students educated in the same classrooms as their non-special needs peers. Bridge Street teachers have said that they support inclusion, but need more support.

Superintendent John Provost said that he thought Friday’s meeting was a success.

“I think it was productive,” said Provost, who characterized the meeting as a necessary conversation.

He also said that he felt that information sharing and problem solving pathways had been opened up.

Choquette sent the letter after receiving a request for information by Bridge Street parent Jonathan Brody, made in writing following the Friday’s meeting. Choquette then made the decision to share the data with all Bridge Street families.

The data shows that Bridge Street has 80 students with disabilities, or 28 percent of its total enrollment, which is the highest number of the four elementary schools. Leeds has 75 students with disabilities, or 22 percent of its total population. Jackson Street has 54 students with disabilities (15 percent) and Ryan Road has 52 (23 percent).

Provost noted, however, that not all of the children causing issues at Bridge Street have disabilities.

The numbers will be discussed in detail at next week’s parent meeting.

Roni Gold, a Bridge Street parent and member of the Bridge Street School Council, expressed his appreciation for the letter.

“The more transparency the better,” he said, while also noting its timeliness.

Choquette also mentions in the letter that the Friday meeting contained the suggestion that those working at Bridge Street come together to figure out how best to utilize the school’s special education resources, and that Wednesday’s meeting would seek to do that.

Sal Canata, principal at Leeds Elementary School, and behavior staff from another elementary school will attend the meeting to assist.

Provost said he was pleased at this development, and the hope that some of the success found in other buildings with the model can be applied to Bridge Street.

Asked about the development, Gold said he was impressed and excited to see that other schools would be lending their support.

Gold may very well have provided the suggestion that inspired the Wednesday meeting, as it sounds very much like what he was calling for there.

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