A controversial decision to shutter a number of special education schools and programs in the Red Clay Consolidated School District has been tabled for another few months.
On Wednesday night, the board voted 7-0 to put the decision off until the March meeting, giving school officials time to better collect information from the district and from the parents of children affected by the decision.
The choice to delay the decision came after over two dozen residents spoke up in protest of the change, which would remove kids from the magnet special needs schools and integrate them back into their neighborhood schools.
The closing would affect the Richardson Park Learning Center and the Central School, both in Wilmington, and the Meadowood Program, located in Newark.
The program would be done in two phases, affecting over 1,500 students over the course of two full school years.
Parents, teachers and other district employees all spoke out against the district's decision to push special needs students towards "inclusion," where they would be grouped into regular classes.
Moving the kids from an environment with smaller class sizes and individualized attention into a mainstream classroom setting would be detrimental or, in some cases, downright impossible for some, according to speakers on Wednesday night.
"If we wanted to integrate our children, we would have done so already," said one parent who identified herself as having a severely disabled child.
Wilmington resident Kayatonya John wept at the microphone as she recounted the positive experience her son, nine-year-old Lavance John, had while at RPLC, where she said he learned to speak and socialize after a severe diagnosis of autism, Asperger's and pervasive developmental disorder.
"He used to be unable to speak – now I can't shut him up," John said.
Many speakers said that they were unprepared for the decision, claiming to have only heard about the situation just days before the Dec. 18 meeting.
The administration, however, said that they have held at least four public information sessions since the idea was first discussed nearly two years ago.
Board president Faith Newton said that additional information sessions would be held at the individual schools, and that she hoped parents would be present then, too, to provide the district with feedback.
"We are trying to do what's best for our kids," she said. "We may just disagree on how to do it, right now."