Superintendent, Principal Say Middle School is Safe
To an auditorium full of parents on Tuesday night, Superintendent Michael Pladus and Sandy Run Middle School Principal Dr. Denise Falconi said the school is a safe place for kids to learn.
To a standing room only crowd of parents, Superintendent Michael Pladus, Sandy Run Middle School Principal Dr. Denise Falconi, and representatives from St. Mary’s met Tuesday night to discuss the recent incidents at the middle school.
Pladus told parents that students from St. Mary’s have been attending Upper Dublin schools for many years. Currently, St. Mary’s has 90 students in their care, and approximately 30 of those students attend classes at Upper Dublin schools.
There are 22 students at the high school and between 8 and 13 at the middle school. At the middle school, some placement decisions are being made, and there may be closer to eight by the end of the school year.
He added that at the high school, there have been a number of success stories with the St. Mary’s children. Seven of the seniors attended the class trip to Disney, two students were accepted to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, one with a full scholarship, and one was accepted to Montgomery County Community College.
Students that enter St. Mary’s are from families with substance abuse, or are victims of abuse themselves.
The average student stays between 9 to 12 months, but they’ve had students stay for only a month or two, or a student in their care for more than three years.
St. Mary’s can house 99 students and currently has 90 students.
At the beginning of the school year, St. Mary’s status changed from a Private Residential Rehabilitation Institution (PRRI) to a Section 1306. The change means St. Mary’s cannot educate regular education students and any student that comes into their facility without an already in place individual learning plan for special needs must be placed into public education within 48 hours.
Previously, students had a transition time at St. Mary’s before entering the public school system. With the status change, St. Mary’s can no longer hold students for a transition period, and Sandy Run Middle School did not have a transition plan for these students.
The students at St. Mary’s have the same rights to attend public school as any other resident in Upper Dublin, and the responsibility falls to the district to educate them.
“The law is explicit…we cannot take a regular education student and send them to a private special education center,” said Pladus. “St. Mary’s students have entitlements…in respect to public education,” he continued.
Beginning Monday, a transition plan has been put in place at the middle school. A transition coordinator has been hired for the middle school and will tour students through the school. Students will also work with the transition coordinator for a couple of days.
Students will also have a transitional classroom for those students who are struggling with the skill sets presented in their classes. There is also a new homeroom for St. Mary’s students in the transitional classroom.
St. Mary’s students will also have separate transportation to and from school.
“I’m totally confident that it’s going to work,” said Falconi.
Falconi told parents that there were no weapons, no knives, no guns involved in either incident last week, as well as reassured parents that there is no “hit list.”
She said both days the incidents were verbal assaults, and Friday teachers, faculty, and staff were kicked and punched as they broke up the verbal fight.
The students have been suspended and are meeting with administration to discuss further discipline.
Falconi reassured concerned eighth grade parents that the students involved in the two incidents will not be allowed on the class trip.
Monday, Falconi met with each grade level at the middle school in assemblies to discuss the incidents and assure them they are safe in the school.
“We want maintain a safe environment for all kids,” said Pladus.
“I have to applaud St. Mary’s for the work they do with these students everyday,” said Falconi.
Reaction From Upper Dublin Township
While concerned parents were meeting in the auditorium on Tuesday night, former township commissioner Bob Pesavento raised the same issue during the public comment portion of the Upper Dublin Board of Commissioners meeting.
Pesavento stated that while he no longer serves as a commissioner, many of his former constituents contacted him regarding the recent incidents at Sandy Run Middle School. He added that the rumors of incidents have taken on a life of their own, comparing their reliability to an instance of "whisper down the lane."
Commissioner Chester Derr replied that some of the rumors were based in fact, pointing to multiple instances of the Upper Dublin Police Department having to respond to incidents at the school. Derr added that the township was in the process of evaluating the situation, in order to decide on the best course of action.
“The township met with Emergency Health Services, the city solicitor, our police department, the school district staff and a juvenile detective," said Derr. "Currently, what we’re doing is we’ve charged our solicitor to evaluate the exact articles that Saint Mary’s operates under, so the township can get a better understanding of their licensing agreements, their obligations under those licensing agreements, and the screening process that Saintt Mary’s participates in.”
The township is looking into how the Saint Mary's students are classified, and they're also familiarizing themselves with some of the cloudy terminology used in the ordinance which governs Saint Mary's.
“A determination is trying to be made if these youths that are coming in are adjudicated delinquents, which would supersede the zoning, or if they are, if fact, dependent, which is what they are supposed to be categorized as,” said Derr. “We’re trying to familiarize ourselves with some terms that the township not necessarily familiar with.”