School Department Has Until March 19 to Issue Special-Ed Discipline Plan

The Haverhill School Department has until March 19 to develop a remediation plan acceptable to the Disability Law Center in the wake of a report critical of the way staff at the Crowell School Kindergarten handled discipline of special education students.

On Thursday night, as Superintendent James F. Scully updated the School Committee on the district’s response, concerned parents met with school leadership at the Crowell.

Scully explained that the Disability Law Center last year received three complaints from Crowell parents that their children had been restrained or subject to other types of inappropriate intervention.

After an investigation last May, the center, which is the designated Protection and Advocacy agency for Massachusetts under federal law, issued its report, which found that students with disabilities at Crowell School were subjected to “abuse, neglect and improper practices,” WHAV previously reported.

Missing from the report, Scully said, was the fact that 15 staff members were injured in the past year by students in the early childhood centers, one seriously enough to have required hospitalization.

Committee member Richard Rosa thanked the media for bringing the Crowell report to light.

“We have a Bill of Rights and a First Amendment for a reason. I, for one, am glad these things are covered and we are held accountable,” Rosa said.

Now that the issue is in the open, it needs to stay there, Rosa said.

“It’s very important that tonight not be the end of the conversation about this, but the start of many conversations about this,” Rosa said. “We can talk about how many kids graduate, go to great colleges, how many Level 1 schools we have, how many students read at grade level, but if we’re not doing everything we can not only to protect the most vulnerable kids in our district, never mind help them flourish, then we’re not doing our job.”

Scully said the school department already has addressed many of the issues in the law center’s report, including reviewing discipline procedures and providing additional staff training.

Rosa noted that the School Committee should do more to get involved with what happens to the district’s 1,600 special education students.

“We have a subcommittee for athletics; I think it’s time we have a subcommittee for special education,” Rosa said.

School Committee Vice Chairman Paul A. Magliocchetti noted that the district’s report coincides with the start of budget discussions for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

As we develop the budget, let’s pull out the line items that are connected to this issue, let the School Committee see what we’re doing and make recommendations if need additional resources, about where they should be going,” he said.

Scully told School Committee members they have decisions to make about the future of the city’s early childhood education centers and special education programs.

“Do you want to keep the centers open, or place the kids” (outside the district), Scully asked.

Staffing is an issue, the superintendent told committee members, noting the competitive salaries offered by other districts and collaboratives.