School Superintendent Dr. Michael Frechette once again faced an angry crowd Tuesday, demanding answers to reported discipline problems at School in a mounting controversy over the use of so-called timeout or “scream" rooms.
One after another parent pressed Frechette during the two-hour, standing-room-only Board of Education meeting to disclose all the facts regarding the school’s practice of isolating certain students with behavioral problems in such seclusion areas.
Joining with parents in demanding answers was school Board secretary Ed McKeon, who also pressed the superintendent to answer questions concerning discipline practices at the elementary school. Several parents praised McKeon for speaking out.
"I understand that there are current investigations into the use of seclusion rooms at Farm Hill School. I would never want confidential information exposed in a public session, however, considering the effect this crisis has had on the parents, teachers and students at Farm Hill, I would have expect Superintendent Frechette's presentation to be as complete as possible," McKeon said.
Frechette presented his report during the first 10 minutes of the meeting, but, McKeon noted, "There is not really much new that we heard tonight that we didn’t hear last week," as some in attendance murmured agreement.
McKeon proceeded to ask Frechette questions that he said he had submitted to the superintendent a week before, but had not received answers to. "Were parents or guardians of students confined in timeout rooms informed during PPTs or were they informed after the fact?" McKeon asked.
But much to the dismay of many in the room, Frechette declined to answer any questions, citing school confidentially rules. "This is a topic that is be investigated by numerous state agencies and we've been advised that we should not discuss it," Frechette answered.
"Were any children placed in secusion simply for discipline reasons?" McKeon continued. Again, Frechette deferred to "advice the attorney has articulated to the Board."
The issue of redistricting at Farm Hill School to address racial disparity and overcrowding and whether this created additional discipline problems also arose at the meeting, with at least one parent suggesting that it placed an extra burden on Farm Hill School.
Cathy Lechowicz, a member of the Ad Hoc Feasibility Committee that was charged in March 2010 to deal with Middletown's redistricting issues, spoke, as did Izzi Greenberg, also a member.
Lechowitz, also a parent of twin sons who will attend Farm Hill next year, said part of the redistricting process was to offer teachers "training to deal with shifting populations at schools," which, she said has not been done since the September 2011 redistricting.
"I urge you to reconstitute the Ad Hoc Feasibility Committee," she pleaded during public session. "This is a citywide issue. This is not a school-specific issue. We should be fighting for all of the children. Our children are all coming together into Keigwin [Middle School], Woodrow Wilson [Middle], Middletown High School ... let’s work together to make all of our kids succeed."
The Ad Hoc Feasibility Committee's work, said Greenberg, executive director of the North End Action Team and a Macdonough Elementary School mother, "was only the first step in redistricting. The committee knew the real work of redistricting is in the monitoring and the ongoing assessment of the numbers."
"This is important work that hasn’t been done," Greenberg said. "There should be a regular committee of the Board that looks at facility, attendance and enrollment boundaries. These issues are fully connected."
Principals of two elementary schools, the Farm Hill secretary Brook Carta and a couple parents came to the defense of teachers and administrators.
Joseph Casella, 13-year principal at Wesley School, said, "What we need to do more of as a district is to share some of the celebrations, highlights and wonderful things that are going on daily in our schools to make people aware how dedicated and aware our administrators are."
Snow School Principal Jim Gaudreau, echoed Casella's remarks. "I know they truly do care about your children and they want the best. I have confidence in the administration we all work with that that will happen."
Check back with Middletown Patch Wednesday morning for updates on the story.