A mother and her 11-year-old son attempted Thursday night to put a human face on an issue dividing the Hunter school community.
Granite School District proposes placing an intensive program for junior high students who have "BD" or behavioral disorders in a satellite building located one block from Hunter Elementary School."This is a BD child. He is a human being. He is no different than other children. He needs to be in a structured environment so he can grow up to be a normal child, whatever normal is," said Christine Otto, referring to her 11-year-old son Gregory.
Gregory, who will be in junior high next year, posed his own questions to a capacity crowd gathered at Kennedy Junior High School for a community meeting on the plan.
"What danger would the neighborhood be in?"
Community members listed a litany of concerns, ranging from additional traffic to a possible increase in crime. Other parents expressed fears their elementary-age children would mingle with the junior high students while the younger kids walked to and from school.
Granite administrators are recommending to the school board that the district bus approximately 36 students to the satellite location, where they would receive instruction and support tailored to students who have attention deficit disorders, behavioral disorders, are impulsive or otherwise have difficulty developing socially appropriate relationships.
Gayle Richards, associate director of special education for Granite District's secondary schools, told parents and community members the students would be instructed and supervised by three experienced teachers, four classroom assistants, a vocational counselor, a psychologist, a mental health worker and a probation officer. The state Department of Child and Family Services may also house a social worker at the satellite building.
While many parents agreed students with behavior disorders need specialized help, many questioned the need to transport them to the satellite campus when the elementary school has become so crowded that portable classrooms are needed. Others expressed concerns about elementary school students' safety.
"I wonder if we're doing something wonderful for 36 kids at the expense of a whole school of kids. I want to know what potential is there?" said Michelle Barker, whose child attends Hunter Elementary.
School officials could offer no guarantees but said the junior high students would be under strict supervision from the time they board school buses from home until they are dropped off in the evening. Students who progress in the program would gradually return to mainstream classrooms at Kennedy Junior High.
The key is keeping the students on task in an environment where there are consequences and consistent reinforcement.
"If we love and care about them, they tend to love and care about us in return," said Marijean Woolf, who has worked with troubled children for 22 years. Woolf would run the pilot program if it is approved.
Speakers were divided on whether programs for children with behavior disorders should be moved from their home schools. The plan contemplates moving West Lake Junior High's class for students with behavior disorders to the Hunter satellite and moving one class each from Hunter and Kennedy junior highs. Hunter and Kennedy would retain one such classroom each.
Some parents asked district officials to explore other locations for the center, including schools on the east side of the district that are less populated. Richards said the intent of the Hunter satellite site is to keep students close to home.
Judy Larson, vice president of the Granite school board, told patrons the school board has not yet acted on the proposal.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, urged area residents to make their wishes known to school board members.
Dozens of people at Thursday night's meeting signed a petition calling for the school board to leave students in behavioral disorder units in their neighborhood schools.
"This probably the best way the students can be mainstreamed into the junior high population and have access to cafeteria, library, gymnasium and other junior high amenities. They can also be involved in valuable school assemblies, etc. We also propose the Hunter Elementary satellite school be used for an elementary school again," the petition read.
The Granite school board will act on the proposal within the next month, said Larson.