Frederick parents protest move of Success program
School officials moved program for students with special needs from Walkersville to New Market
Tired of waiting for Frederick County school officials to fix their problem, parents from the Success special needs program brought their concerns out in the open on Wednesday.
Armed with posters and slogans stating that school officials "crippled" the program and "stole Success" from their children, a handful of parents, students and other family members came to the Frederick County Public Schools' headquarters in downtown Frederick to protest the move of the Success program from its longtime home in Walkersville to Oakdale High School in New Market.
Their message was simple. They want a better location for the program.
"Our children need a place where they can do laundry, walk to the store and walk to the bus stop," said Gema Ahern, whose son Jorge, 19, attends the Success program.
Ahern, who brought all four of her children to the protest, carried a large poster stating: "FCPS has a new building. What about disabled children?"
The Success program serves about 25 students who have special needs, aged 18 through 21, and teaches them life skills, so they can transition to independent life in the community.
Until this year, the program was housed in the former Flexible Evening High School in Walkersville, where Success students were in a familiar, community-based setting, had their own kitchen and laundry area, and didn't have to share a building with high school students.
But this summer, school officials started renovating the Flexible Evening High School, and moved Success into two classrooms at the new Oakdale High School without consulting parents.
The change has upset parents, who don't feel that Oakdale High School is equipped to meet the needs of their children.
At Oakdale, Success students have to share their kitchen and laundry with high school students, they have no access to community services, and they simply don't feel independent, said parents who joined the protest on Wednesday.
Parents would accept moving the program any place that Success students could practice the social aspects of living in a community, such as Frederick Community College, in downtown Frederick, or even in one of the school system's administrative buildings, such as the vacant office building on Church Street.
Parents voiced these concerns in meetings with school staff in September, and also addressed the school board. They are also scheduled to meet with school staff on Monday to discuss both a short-term solution to the problem and a potential long-term location for Success.
But parents on Wednesday said they need a solution soon. Some of the students in Success now are in their last year of the program, and will have no other chance to learn how to be independent, parents said.
"We've been talking to people, but nothing has changed," Ahern said. "We don't want any more meetings. We just want to give them what they need."
Camille Kime, one of the organizers of the protest, said she hoped it would help them publicize their concerns and gather support from the community.
Kime, whose granddaughter Taylor attends the Success program, said she feels the community supports their cause. The parents held another protest before the school administrative building on Monday, and Kime said parents plan to continue fighting until they see a change.
Michael Schaden, a member of the school board, spoke to the parents on Wednesday, and promised to see the program's location at Oakdale High School on Monday.
He said the school system may have to find a new short-term and long-term location for the program. For example, Success students may be able to move to the second Lincoln Elementary building once the school system completes the expansion of the Frederick city school.
"You are being heard," he told parents.