Anthony Aubrey walked up to the table of adults sitting in a giant U-shape and pleaded his case for keeping the special education classes at each of the Keystone Oaks School District's individual elementary schools.
"I really didn't want to go to the last day of school because I didn't want to break it to my friends that I wouldn't be back," said the 10-year-old, who utilizes the special education services at Aiken Elementary School. "My friends ... they help me a lot."
A few minutes earlier, during the June 23 school board meeting, the youngster's mother, Tina Aubrey, stood up as one of a handful of parents to object to a proposed plan that would centralize all special education across the district at Dormont Elementary School. The proposal is still awaiting state approval.
Ms. Aubrey and other parents noted that their complaint isn't with the district's program nor with the quality of the teachers assisting their children.
Instead, they object to the district's proposal -- which sought no input from affected families -- before announcing plans in late May to relocate students at Aiken and Myrtle elementary schools.
"I think this is really the school district's way of getting kids out of Aiken and Myrtle and putting them into a consolidated Dormont," Ms. Aubrey said.
The parents contend that many of the 17 students impacted by the proposed move are diagnosed with high-functioning autism, a condition that makes them more susceptible to struggling to make emotional connections and friendships with others.
"It's the emotional piece that is our biggest concern," said Jennifer McLinden, another parent concerned about how the district's plan will affect her son. "It's not about the [quality of] education or the condition of the building, but the fact that our kids won't be with their support systems. Autistic children have problems making these connections."
Kathy Foster, assistant superintendent, said the proposal is still under review by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Special Education.
Mrs. Foster said the idea was to put the program in a central location in hopes of better utilizing special education teachers. Currently, the teachers spend time traveling from one school to another to provide services. By hosting all the special education students at Dormont, the district could eliminate that need for time-consuming travel.
In addition, the district will have two fewer special education teachers going into the 2011-12 academic year. By placing all the teachers at Dormont, Mrs. Foster said more children will be reached.
She noted that the district held an open house at the end of the school year, inviting the families of each of the 17 students impacted by the proposed changes to an open house at Dormont Elementary.
"They got to tour the building and meet the special education teachers ... It was a good day," said Mrs. Foster. "We didn't have all 17 families, maybe eight families."
Pamela E. Walck, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org .