Discontent persists over the Warren County School District's handling of the emotional and autistic support programs at Youngsville Elementary Middle School, but efforts to address the concerns moving forward are beginning to come into view.
While some members of the Youngsville community called for the programs to be moved to other locations throughout the district, Superintendent Dr. William Clark expressed optimism that the programs can be successful yet remain at YEMS.
"The hope is that we will continue to maintain it and provide resources that may have initially been lacking," Clark said on Wednesday. "At this point in time, we do not have a recommendation to take to the board" to move the programs.
While he acknowledged that could change in the coming months, Clark did say staffing adjustments will be recommended and that the district will do its "best to make them (parents) feel comfortable."
He cautioned that, given student confidentiality laws, administration cannot necessarily respond to all of the concerns raised by parents and members of the community regarding incidents with specific students, but, he noted, "Each one of the issues raised has been investigated."
"One of the things we are trying to combat, as well, are parents who are saying that 'I had a disruptive student in my child's classroom'," said WCSD Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Gary Weber. "Often times those are not even the ES kids." He noted some appear to be "trying to drag every problem in the school into that program."
Clark said, as an educator, he is concerned about potentially moving the students in these programs again. "If we keep yanking them...they get used to their environment," he said, indicating that behaviors could escalate beyond what they already have should the students have to move again.
Clark addressed the school board's Curriculum, Instruction and Technology Committee, as well as a room full of members of the Youngsville community, during a meeting Monday night.
He told the group the "last couple weeks have been difficult for everyone. District administration is aware of a lot of the concerns."
When a student assignment that appeared to suggest the specifics of a mass shooting leaked recently, Clark said the district "did answer a lot of phone calls last Friday. We tried to call everybody back in short order. Could we have sent somebody down (to the school)? In hindsight, that might have been a good choice. Sometimes in education you learn on the job."
"It was a dark cloud over the district as we dealt with that," he added, noting the "silver lining" of the situation is that "a lot of things we have learned we can do differently. Communication could have been better at a lot of different levels."
Clark acknowledged he does not have solutions to those issues now but will debrief with his administrative team. He specifically mentioned the use of call blast and potential social media postings as areas that could help alleviate these concerns.
"Children have to be safe and fed before they can be educated," he said. "(I) do want to let the community know, when we got calls on Friday (March 21), (we) learned a lot more information that we didn't know before." He said those new leads were examined throughout the day.
"We heard from the community loud and clear," he noted.
Regarding the ES and AS programs, Clark told the group, "We're looking at that as we get in the budget development process."
He said that the situation has improved with the para-professionals who were hired last month and placed at YEMS and YHS.
However, he said the placement of the programs at YEMS, as well as other concerns about the situation, is something that "we are gong to look at." The concerns raised "are all things we are taking into consideration as we move forward."
While some have proposed moving the program to two locations, one in the eastern part of the district and one in the west, Clark said, "we're taking a look at that", but added student "numbers aren't showing a change for splitting it at this point in time."
Clark invited those with concerns to contact him and YEMS Principal Eric Mineweaser.
"We're all here to educate kids," he said.