Vestal considers cutting special education program due to enrollment

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VESTAL (WBNG) — At Tuesday’s board of Education meeting, Superintendent Jeffery Ahearn said that a district special education program is looking to be eliminated from the middle school due to enrollment, not cost.

“Let me be clear, a decision not to have a [Middle School] 8:1:1 next year is not a cost-cutting measure,” told Ahearn to a packed, standing room meeting.

The 8:1:1 program includes eight students, one teacher and a teacher’s assistant. It had as many as seven students this year, according to Ahearn. He said by the end of the school year the program will have two students who are not expected to return to it next year. He added, “There are no students moving up from the primary level next year to populate the 8:1:1 class.”

Ahearn’s full statement from Tuesday’s meeting can be found below.

While Ahearn said the decision would be for next year, the following years will be addressed in the future. Many of the parents who were at Tuesday’s meeting are concerned if the program goes it won’t come back.

“I just want to make sure that every option is really being considered, and that they’re not encouraging people to send their children out of district just because the numbers are getting too low,” said Tina Lilly. Her first grade son, is in the district’s special education program. “They really should find a way to continue to provide for the community,” explained Lilly, who has been pleased with the 8:1:1 program.

“These parents of these 8:1:1 kids, they chose to go to Vestal because it’s a great school district,” said Lilly’s son Ben who addressed the room during public comment. His older brother, Michael also got up in front of the board of education to talk about their younger brother Owen.

“My brother loves to go to school and is always excited to go every morning,” said Vestal student Michael Lilly.

Another student spoke about her friends with special needs and their dependency on the program. Parents including Bethany Golebiewski, who has a child with special needs in the Vestal school district, doesn’t want to see change.

For Golebiewski it’s about programs that her 9th grade son Hudson, who has autism, benefited from. It’s also about continuing her father’s legacy.

Golebiewski said her father helped establish Vestal’s Special Education program decades ago, as the district’s first special education teacher.

“He wouldn’t want to see any changes being made,” said Golebiewski. “He would want things to stay in place and to positively move forward.”

One board of education member suggested combining the eight-one-one program at Vestal Middle School and African Road Elementary School. No further comment by the board was made into that consideration.

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Michael Schwartz

Michael Schwartz

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