The Warren County School District board of directors approved the hiring of four additional paraprofessionals to help alleviate concerns regarding special education programming at Youngsville Elementary Middle and Youngsville High schools during a special meeting on Monday night.
Superintendent Dr. William Clark said, during committee meetings while the special meeting was technically in recess, that the district has met with Beacon Light Behavioral Health Systems to brainstorm potential service options at the schools.
Board member Patricia Rosenstein, who is also affiliated with Beacon Light, said that as members of the community, Beacon Light will "help solve these problems. Because of our mission, we want to be able to provide some of the resources we have and expertise we have for the school district to make some decisions."
Interim Director of Pupil Services Ruth Nelson said the district has met with the Pennsylvania Department of Education regarding the special education issues.
"PDE has offered to come back up," said Clark. "We welcome their input."
Clark also explained that the district visited an emotional support program in the Erie Public Schools, which works in conjunction with Mercyhurst University. "The biggest thing we saw there was the data collection piece, looking at progress on the kids on a daily basis. That's a little bit of a different approach."
Clark said Mercyhurst was open to offering professional development to WCSD staff.
Board President Arthur Stewart raised several potential action items regarding the situation in the Youngsville area, including the location of the programs within the building, staffing and professional development.
He said, "We have funds set aside for the support of this program we thought we might need."
Clark said there has been discussion about moving some of the programming located on the second floor down to the first floor.
"There are some logistical things we are looking at," he said, explaining that the move could be completed now but questioned whether it would be effective in the middle of the school year.
In regards to staffing, Clark explained that "the number of paraprofessionals being increased would be extremely helpful.
He said the administration's recommendation would be to add one aide at Youngsville High School and three at YEMS. Of the three at YEMS, one would be assigned to the K-2 autism support class and the other two would float, one each in the autism program and the emotional support program.
He said the costs for the four positions for the remainder of the school year is in the realm of $60,000.
"I know we have adequate dollars in the contingency" to cover the cost, Stewart said.
The board approved that expense unanimously during the special meeting.
Scott Nelson, one of the YEMS parents who spearheaded raising awareness of those issues, said that it would be beneficial "the more you can communicate to us about how this is going."
When asked how the situation is different at YHS, YHS Principal Phil Knapp said, "I do believe one aide is enough. (We) have had a lot more success with the program. They're pushing more toward the graduation track at this point... Overall, we haven't had the meltdown of students. We have used the refocus room. Students at the high school level are more apt to go to the refocus room when they are upset. The aide will help us to have some flexibility, maybe even some more one-on-one time with students in general. (I'm) not going to say we haven't had any problems but the transition has been fairly smooth. We have very good teachers."
In other news, the special board meeting was originally called for action on a grievance. The text of the motion read, "That the Board of School Directors sustains in part and denies in part the grievance filed by the Warren County Education Association relating to 1/8 of a day."
Stewart said that the "item won't wait until the next meeting."
After a 10-minute executive session, the board unanimously approved the motion with no discussion.
On Tuesday, after a request by the Times Observer in an attempt to review the grievance document, district administration said that the document is exempt from the state Right to Know law and offered no further details on the grievance circumstances.