DEVENS -- The Harvard School Committee voted unanimously to extend an offer to the CASE collaborative to use classroom space at Hildreth Elementary School next year. The Harvard School District is a member of the multi-community special-education collaborative.
Interim School Superintendent Joseph Connelly said the Concord-Carlisle District has recently indicated that, due to an uptick in enrollment following the development of a new affordable-housing complex, that district cannot provide the space to CASE it once did.
CASE Executive Director Teresa Watts and principal Linda Dwight toured the kindergarten wing at Hildreth Elementary earlier this month and agreed the Harvard space fits the bill. Space in the kindergarten wing that is presently being used by reading and math tutors was targeted as meeting CASE's needs.
Because of the number of bathrooms in the kindergarten wing, "this wing is ideally suited, age wise," said Connelly. Connelly reported Dwight agreed "she sees it being a very positive addition to the school."
CASE last used HES classroom space in 2009. "It was a very, very good partnership. Folks were disappointed to see it move on," said Connelly.
Connelly said HES appears to have the space to spare next year "and possibly in future years. It's not as thought we'd need those rooms back in a year." Earlier in the meeting, Connelly reported there'd be two vacant classrooms next year based on shrinking enrollment.
Connelly said the space would be rented to the collaborative on a year-to-year basis, with payment via a $7,500 discount towards Harvard's tuition in the collaborative, though there are no Harvard children in the collaborative at this time, said Connelly.
"There's nothing but positive features to it," said Connelly. "But our driving force is to help them meet needs." If a Harvard child comes to require the CASE collaborative at a future time, the district would save on transportation costs, but would also possibly be able to allow that student to attend "their neighborhood school."
Connelly estimated the classes would consist of four to six students per class, likely with autism diagnosis.
School Committee member Kirsten Wright read aloud an email from Jamie Allard, parent of 12-year-old daughter Riley, who was born with birth defects and had a brain tumor removed at age 5. Riley couldn't attend mainstream classrooms and attended CASE in Harvard for a year. She supported the return of CASE to HES.
The opportunity allows students to understand "those who are different" and understand that classmates may have siblings who receive special education elsewhere. Allard said she's experienced other children who "stare and whisper" about Riley. Allard said her son, Tristan, was also asked "why those kids don't talk."
Welcoming CASE to HES naturally dovetails into the anti-bullying curriculum, said Allard. "We have a responsibility to teach our children about others, just as we teach them math and English." Allard hoped Harvard wouldn't reject CASE students and "deprive (HES students) of exposure to special-needs peers just to maintain high testing scores."
Allard's poignant commentary was bolstered by School Committee member Keith Cheveralls, who said he was moved by Allard's letter. "I interacted with Jamie Allard when the decision was made by CASE to close those (HES) classrooms. To hear Jamie continue to lobby is a very moving thing, sitting at this table."