School committee takes more heat over special education

Warwick Beacon ·

The Warwick School Committee was again met with rampant dissatisfaction from parents and teachers at Tuesday’s meeting. Complaints largely focused on special education but also regarded lack of classroom supplies, conditions inside the schools and printing problems. The issues have created a “hostile” work environment, many teachers said.

“I’m actually sad coming to school some days,” said Toll Gate teacher Jim Harrison.

Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh was the first to speak, seemingly setting the tone for the rest of public comments. She cited “poor planning” and large class sizes.

“We have 28 students in a class, 15 of whom have IEPs. We have kids who should be in intensive ed classes or co-op at the high school, and these students are now in classes of 18 and not getting the education they deserve,” she said. “This needs to be taken care of now.”

The complaints come ahead of the second elementary consolidation meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Pilgrim High School and a public forum on special education to be hosted next week by Councilman Ed Ladoceur and the Community Outreach Education Committee. The forum will be held October 19 at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers. Attendees can use the forum to voice their concerns about special education in Warwick.

Jason Huddon, teacher and parent of a special education student, said his son does not have a special educator in his classroom.

Another teacher said he has a class of 24 with 14 IEPs, most of which are intensive education, along with two EL students. He does have a special educator in his classroom but has no common planning time with her. Another one of his classes resembled the one Netcoh described, he said, with 28 students, 15 IEPs that were intensive ed, and two 504s. He has no special educator in that room.

“The theory of throwing kids into a crowded classroom of 28 is going to cure them of IEPs – I don’t get that,” he said. “This whole weighting thing is not a giveaway to teachers. It’s insurance that special education students get what they need.”

Another teacher said 36 percent of her students, not including those with 504s, have IEPs. In a classroom setting, she said, 13 of 25 students have IEPs, eight of which require preferential seating.

“I am on the fourth organization of my classroom to try and meet that need,” she said.

She also said that of those 13 students, five require tests or quizzes to be read aloud and six require alternative settings for assessment and one-to-one small group instruction.

At least two teachers pointed out printing problems at the schools, saying they’d been encouraged to reduce printing so that they wouldn’t “break Google.” One Warwick Veterans teacher was particularly frustrated and said she hasn’t been able to print an IEP due on Friday.

“I didn’t realize we could ‘break Google,’ but apparently we can because we keep doing it,” she said. “Teachers do not come into a building every day thinking, ‘I’m just going to frivolously print everything and break the system.’ We print what we need to print, and there are certain things every day that need to be printed. I need to be able to come into work and print legal documents for meetings when they are due.”

One science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher at Warwick Veterans said he and his students were unable to complete a project because the materials he had been told were ordered at the beginning of the year came late and in lower quantity than they needed.

A few attendees were frustrated that the meeting was held on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. School Committee Member Karen Bachus later apologized for the scheduling.

Despite their seemingly dampened spirits, teachers continued to assert that they were motivated by their students to speak in favor of improvements.

“You are what makes this job worthwhile,” said Toll Gate math teacher Bill Aquilante said in reference to students. “Only your opinion matters of what I did and how I treated you.”

In other business, the committee was presented with the results of PARCC tests, which showed certain low proficiencies the members found dissatisfying. The committee approved four new teachers; a special education teacher for Norwood; FTE mathematics, English, and chemistry or biology teachers for Pilgrim; and a general science teacher for Toll Gate. The committee also approved returning the Aldrich Junior High School building to the city by the end of the month.