Parents urge preservation of program for autistic kids

Parents urge preservation of program for autistic kids

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Some parents are asking the Regional School District 13 Board of Education not to move forward with the administration’s proposed cuts to the Applied Behavior Analysis program’s staffing, sharing testimonies of their own experiences during a recent school board meeting. 

ABA is therapy for students with autism developed to help them integrate into regular classrooms. Students are also taught a wide range of skills, like cooking, making a bed and safety issues. ABA therapists also work with children on toilet training and other personal hygiene. District 13 is made up of students from Durham and Middlefield.

“These hardworking individuals should be respected and valued just as much as teachers,”  Durham resident Mariah Roy said during the March 13 meeting. “They show up daily and work with the most challenging students. It worries me that the higher powers making decisions on behalf of my son's future don't know the true significance of the ABA staff.”

Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Veronesi’s proposed budget calls for ABA staff to work 10 months, instead of 12 months. The change will affect employee benefits, including paid sick and vacation days. 

The move is estimated to save the district about $69,400, according to budget documents. Overall, Veronesi’s $35.5-million budget includes a spending increase of $22,730, or 0.06 percent. 

Director of Student Services and Special Education Scott Rossignol, who attended the board meeting, told residents that the proposals in the budget would not “directly impact child services.”

His focus is honoring the plans for care the staff and parents put together for each student and ensuring the district is able to “deliver those services and those plans with fidelity and in a high quality manner.” 

Several ABA staff members who attended the meeting declined to comment.

About 10 residents, mostly parents of students who have benefited from the program, voiced their concerns, some getting emotional when recalling how much the ABA staff helped their children. 

Some parents said they felt the administrators proposing the cuts don’t understand the work and love that the ABA staff provide students. 

“I urge you to speak with them, I urge you to observe them, to see what they do, because they more than deserve to be full-time and give the kids the consistency and the continuity and the love,” parent Caroline Furman said. 

Furman said when she came to the district with her daughter Kelly, who recently graduated from the Middlesex Transition Academy, she was quickly impressed and thrilled at the program. 

“To me, the ABA staff is one of the cornerstones of this exemplary special ed program and I feel as though it has been severely damaged and... the staff has not been valued and not appreciated,” Furman said. 

At least two Board of Education members also expressed concern that the cut would affect the district’s ability to retain quality ABA staff. 

“I just feel that if we're gonna make a drastic change like this, ... we're gonna lose good people that work with us,” board member Christine Geraci said. “Mental health work is very very challenging and to now tell these people that they can't have a paid day off, I feel is a little bit disgraceful.”

She said the ABA job market is very competitive and without high quality staff, they risk students being “outplaced,” which costs the district significant money. 

The Board of Education is expected to continue the conversation on staffing changes proposed in the budget, at a special board meeting on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the library at Coginchaug Regional High School.
Twitter: @baileyfaywright


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