January 6, 2012
To: Honorable Mayor, Dan Drew
CC: Michael J. Frechette, Ph.D., Superintendent of Schools; Barbara R. Senges, Associate Superintendent; Ann Perzan, Director of Pupil Services and Special Education; Gene P. Nocera, BOE Chair; Sheila C. Daniels, Vice-Chair; Ed McKeon, Secretary; William G. Grady, Ava M. Hart, Ryan Kennedy, Cheryl A. P. McClellan, Mitchell Wynn, Theodore V. Raczka, Patricia Girard Principle-Farm Hill and “The many concerned Farm Hill Parents”
My name is Apryl Dudley and I have been involved in the Farm Hill PTA since my children started Kindergarten five years ago. I was PTA vice president from 2008-2010 and currently President from 2010-2012.
I am writing you with some concerns I have and concerns I have been hearing from other parents. I am a very involved parent at Farm Hill School. As the president of the PTA, I feel I am in a very difficult position. I have had many parents calling me telling me they are ready to call the media, police and DCF in an attempt to help our children. I would like to see corrective measures taken before our community is publicly humiliated by the media. I see and hear a lot of what is going on in our school.
My fear is that a child is going to get severely hurt and hope for a response and a resolution. In October, word got out about two rooms that were created for our "behavior students" who can't control their anger. Parents and students refer to them as "Scream Rooms". We were told they are alternative learning environments by administration. They are small rooms with concrete walls. When a child can't be controlled they are brought to this room. Staff members stand outside the door until the child cools down, then they are let out. Three parents called me after they witnessed two staff members holding a door shut from one of these rooms with a child on the other side as they kicked and screamed uncontrollably. There is something unsettling, knowing that a child is hitting their head against walls and urinating everywhere, then only to be let out and put back in classrooms with our children.
During these events, depending on which room the child is in, it becomes a disruption to all classrooms surrounding it. Some classrooms/grades are made to stop their lesson and either read or color to try to ignore the blood curdling screams and even take their books and pencils into a different location in the school. Many times both of these rooms are being used at the same time which leaves no option to find a quiet spot to learn. I myself have witnessed children being restrained both inside and outside of the school and carried into these "Rooms". My children come home weekly, “sometimes multiple times in a week”, discussing the incidents that occurred in school that day.
These outbursts are disrupting the entire school. Is Farm Hill the only school in the district with the ICM department? With CMT's coming up, how are other children going to be able to perform well, when they are pretty much guaranteed to hear these outbursts? Farm Hill failed last year, what is going to happen this year?
Many students, and I assume staff, are afraid of these children. The disrespect and language to our staff and students by these children is disgusting. I myself have been told these children can't help it. I find that VERY hard to believe and unacceptable. These students have negatively affected the learning enviourment and regularly intimidate other students. This must stop and it is the BOE’s obligation to take corrective measures ASAP to make this stop.
Good students are getting an "I don't care attitude". They see these behavioral students being rewarding if they have a good hour and the all the rest of the student body are expected to behave at all times.
An issue I have, and other parents have voiced to me as well, is the lack of communication and information to parents at our school. I understand privacy laws, but there is no reason why parents shouldn't be made aware of the issues that go on in our school. Why can’t parents be told that our school was selected to house the ICM children who have serious behavior issues. These children require restraining from trained staff and sometimes must be transported out by ambulance. Forwarding general information on to parents would save a lot of gossip and help answer questions.
Right now the families at Farm Hill are basically kept in the dark. Our children are coming home asking why the police were at school again today, or why were there stretchers in the hallway. What are we parents supposed to say? We, as parents can only assume. When we ask, we are told it can't be discussed. Still leaving the questions of what happened and are our children safe?
Currently, approximately 20-25 families have pulled their children out of our school since September because of these ongoing major issues and have sent them to private school. Many more families do not plan on returning next September. Do you as a Board of Ed really want to have all of our good families leave this school? Or worse yet, I have heard people wanting to move out of Middletown for a better learning environment. What kind of statement does this make to potential new residents/taxpayers?
I feel another reason our school is so out of control is because of a lack of resources. McDonough School for example, has more resources than all the elementary schools put together. They have funded programs that come in to help staff and students. Wesleyan students also come in and volunteer to run after school programs and many more. Why hasn't Farm Hill been given the proper resources we need? Is it a budget issue? Wesleyan students tutor for free. I know this for a fact because I have utilized them to assist my child for additional educational benefits.
This ongoing situation is not only affecting our children but surely must have a negative effect on our teachers. The moral at our school is at its worst. Our children are unhappy. It is also embarrassing to be at an event not involving school and hear people talk about how bad things are at Farm Hill School. I used to be proud to say I was a Farm Hill Parent and find myself now not admitting it. Please help our children in our school.
I have included these additional facts that have been brought to my attention as parental issues for student and staff safety concerns and questionable acceptance policies by the BOE.
1) The police department had to be called at least once, each week since school started
2) Desks are being flipped, chairs are being thrown and equipment is being damaged. - DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY
3) Staff members are being injured by students. - ABUSE
4) An ICM student allegedly put a belt around her neck during class. - Attempted Suicide/Attention
5) The same student punched a fellow student in the face, giving her a black eye. - Assault
6) Children in their fit of rage, rip down fellow classmates work with no consequence.
I am available to discuss any and all issues within this letter. Many concern parents are waiting to hear from you and are already calling me as their President of the PTA for any resolution to these issues I have raised. I know of no misinformation provided above and can only hope the BOE shares enough concerns to move forward to immediate changes.
Thank you very much for your email with regard to concerns at Farm Hill. Central Office has been meeting with Pat throughout the fall to address issues as they have arisen.
Concurrently, we have been putting together a comprehensive plan to proactively address the issues at Farm Hill. Recently, we have formalized our action plan for Farm Hill which will be articulated to the faculty and staff on Friday, January 13th with Central Office in attendance.
Point of clarification -- many issues at Farm Hill are not the result of the Special Education population, rather, general education students, which is why the plan we have developed is comprehensive in order to address the entire population.
A significant part of this plan is a School-Parent Compact which will involve the PTA, State Department of Education, Central Office, and Farm Hill Staff.
Subsequent to the faculty and staff meeting on Friday, January 13th the plan will be shared with the PTA. However, to allay concerns recently expressed by parents, I have spoken with several parents and indicated that a plan will be forthcoming to address safety issues at Farm Hill.
Teachers and staff members have been meeting with Central Office to share their point-of-view of the issues at Farm Hill. Their input was used in the formulation of the final plan.
I will share this plan with the BOE in writing after the faculty, staff, and CO meet on Friday, January 13th and provide a report at the January 24th regular BOE meeting.
Michael J. Frechette, Ph.D.