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 met Tuesday night to

The Students

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 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.

St. Mary’s

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.

Transition Plan

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.

Recent Incidents

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 .

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.”


Michelle May 09, 2012 at 01:48 PM
I would like to know more-- Exactly when did St. Mary's Villa receive the change in status? Does anyone know why this change in status was made? When was the Upper Dublin School District was informed of that change? Thanks!
Leann Pettit May 09, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Michelle-according to what was said last night, the change was made over the course of a year, and went into full effect in September (at the beginning of the school year). St. Mary's is owned by Holy Family out of Pittsburgh, who changed their status, and St. Mary's followed. The Sec. 1306 status is working in other Holy Family institutions in western PA.
JM May 09, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Upper Dublin School District drop the ball on this one and failed to be proactive regarding the status change of St. Mary's. My question is...has UDSD done anything to nofify parents on the elementary school level that will be attending SRMS next year of this situation???
JJ May 09, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Leann, thank you for your positive and detailed report on this issue. I'm impressed by Drs Pladus and Falconi's positivie attitude as well. Our children will be OK. They have loving families who are taking care of them, and trying to protect them from danger and perceived danger. These incidents have brought to our attention an opportunity to help kids who don't have these privileges. Our kids don't have to become the best friends of the St Mary's kids, and we aren't asked to take them into our homes. Upper Dublin School District is moving to do this good work of helping these kids in a school setting. Should parents and other citizens of UDSD reject these kids and try to have them removed, or should we all look to at least support the schools as they do the best to help these kids? Or should we ask ourselves, can we do even more?
Keith Heffintrayer (Editor) May 09, 2012 at 04:55 PM
I would like to point out that the article above has been updated to reflect the comments made during last night's Upper Dublin Board of Commissioners meeting. The additional information can be found at the bottom of the article, under the sub-heading "Reaction From Upper Dublin Township"
Jean Catanzaro May 09, 2012 at 05:45 PM
is there an article on issues from the board meeting on May 7,2012. I can't find one if there isn't one why is there an article from Tuesdays meeting but not Mondays meeting. Both meetings required attention and are equally important issues.
justme May 09, 2012 at 05:47 PM
so does anyone understand what is meant by" if they are adjudicated delinquents, which would supersede the zoning" ? Also, JJ I am all for being positive, but sometimes having rose colored glasses on can be a detriment. The kids that we are speaking of are not the St. Mary's kids that have been evaluated and deemed ok for a less restrictive environment. Those kids should be welcome in the school, as they are not a threat to anyone's well being. After hearing what happened to Dr. Falconi and other teachers and a police officer, I do not think these kids (the ones that are disciplinary problems) should be mixed in with the general population of kids. My heart goes out to them, but that does not mean we have to put our kids at risk for the sake of "being the good guy".
Keith Heffintrayer (Editor) May 09, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Hi Jean, If you are referring to the UDSD work session on Monday night, Editor Lean Pettit was there, and she published the following article afterwards. http://upperdublin.patch.com/articles/ud-school-board-discusses-proposed-final-budget-with-4-25-tax-increase For future reference, if you do not see a particular article on the home page, you may scroll over the "news" tab above, and select a category from the drop-down menu to find our most recent coverage. In this case, it would be "news" then "school" Hope this helps!
UpsetUDTaxpayer May 09, 2012 at 07:08 PM
While I am not happy with the situation and the way in which the initial influx of students were handled, I do not think Dr. Falconi or the district truly understood how St. Mary's status change would impact SRMS. It was also made very clear that aside from changing federal and state laws, St. Mary's will be sending kids to UDSD for quite some time. Right, wrong, fair or not, it is what it is. That being said, I am confident in the measures that Dr. Falconi (along with the district) has implemented to protect the education and well being of UDSD students. I also have faith in our teachers. They are the "ground troops" that make positive differences in our kids lives every day. THE REAL PROBLEM: St. Mary's students are primarily from Philadelphia. Philly School District has NOT been providing the required documentation for the St. Mary's students within 10 days as required by law. Without this documentation, UDSD effectively knows NOTHING about the student. We then need to find a parent for authorization for testing the student to determine need (good luck with that). Then, if UDSD can find the parent, and gains permission to test, we then incur the cost of the testing. All of this thanks to Philadelphia School District not properly giving us the documentation as required by law. Additionally, Philadelphia is currently over 9 months delinquent on paying UDSD over $250,000 (see budget issues article).
justme May 09, 2012 at 07:46 PM
why has nobody gone after Philadelphia school district if they are not abiding by the law, and why do we have to take the student without the proper documentation that is required by law....who do we talk to about this.....I was not happy with the state reps response last night which was, "if they do not follow the law, then what....we do not exactly know" so that means that Philadelphia does not have to play by the rules, but we do....they should have a multimillion dollar lawsuit on their hands and we should not be forced to comply if they don't have to....
tex May 09, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Since when does the District notify parents when new students will be entering the school?
tex May 09, 2012 at 08:04 PM
UDSD can't refuse to accept kids because they come from broken homes. UDSD is not "being a good guy", or taking these kids out of the goodness of their heart. They have a legal obligation to provide them an education in the least restrictive environment. Until there is a legally-binding determination that the public schools are not the appropriate environment for these kids, that's where they must go.
UpsetUDTaxpayer May 10, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Justme: As they said in the meeting, you need to contact your state senator / congressmen and voice your concerns. Rep. Todd Stephens was at the meeting with a member from his office and stated he wants to hear from people about this issue. As we all know, the more people call, the higher the issue is placed on their list of priorities. Here is the info from his business card that he was giving out to people: Ed Diasio District Constituent Outreach Specialist for Representative Todd Stephens 215.368.5165 ediasio@pahousegop.com
justme May 10, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Thanks UpsetUDTaxpayer...I will forward this on to others, for as you said, the more people that voice their concern the better chance something will be done....
justme May 11, 2012 at 03:32 PM
for those interested....I did email Mr. Diasio, and he was extremely receptive and said a letter to the Pa Department of Education is going out today and he will be forwarding that letter to me. He suggested that anyone else with concerns to email him as well
Stop overspending May 13, 2012 at 02:29 AM
My heart goes out to these children as they did not ask to be subject to abuse however, i dont want to pay for them, their testing, separate transportation, newly hired transition person, etc. We can't even get proper advNced education for our children and we pay the huge taxes in upper dublin. People can't ship certain products outside of the country without proper documentation but we should let people into our schools without documentation. Are our children safe from horrible diseases that people get from abusing illegal injected drugs that these children could have gotten from their parents? Amazes me, people need a license to have a dog but not to have children


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