Success program to return to Walkersville
Move depends on roof repair; timeline remains unclear
Ruthie Brandenburg is not like most Frederick County parents who would love for their child to attend school in a brand-new building like Oakdale High, with its the latest technology, shiny hallways and sparkling classrooms.
Brandenburg would rather have her 20-year-old daughter Lisa back at her old school in Walkersville, if that would mean that Lisa would stop having anxiety attacks and be as calm and happy as she was before the Success program moved to Oakdale at the start of this school year.
But for now she has no guarantees that would happen any time soon.
Though Frederick County school officials on Tuesday promised parents they would bring back the Success program to its original location at the former Flexible Evening High School in Walkersville, the timeline for the move remains unclear, which has left parents like Brandenburg conflicted and worried.
"I am not encouraged. I guess we'll have to see the timeline, but I just can't get positive about this," said Brandenburg, who fears that the move of the Success program to Oakdale this year has affected her daughter's health.
"I wish they had come in with a more positive, can-do attitude," she said.
The meeting on Tuesday was held so officials could decide the future of Success a program designed to help adults with special needs transition into independent life.
The program, which serves about 35 Frederick County students, was moved to Oakdale High School this year, after school officials found they need to repair the roof of its original building in Walkersville.
The move was a sudden decision, officials said, and initially there was no plan to return the program to Walkersville. But after parents raised concerns that the needs of their children are not being met at the new location, officials have started to look for ways to return the program to Walkersville.
But that may still take three or four months, officials told parents on Monday.
The school system has yet to demolish the entire roof structure and replace it, ensuring the safety of the 90-year-old school building, said Ray Barnes, the school system director for facilities.
However, even if commissioners help fast-track the project as promised and crews work as fast as they can, it will take a few months before it is safe to occupy the building, Barnes said.
"It is hard to know what the timeline is," he said.
Schools Superintendent Linda Burgee also talked with parents on Monday, and apologized for the move of Success.
"When we relocated the program to Oakdale, we assumed that this would be an OK situation," she said. "Now we know that this is not working the way we wanted it to work and I will take full responsibility for that. ... We understand that this is not the program that you had at Walkersville B."
In Walkersville, 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-schoolers, as they do at Oakdale.
At Oakdale, Success students are also in a rural setting and don't have access to community services, which normally allows them to practice going out to a bank or a post office and teaches them to live independently.
However, officials on Monday said they are still able to meet the goals outlined in the Success students' individual education plans, as required by law. Schools in Frederick County are required to provide educational services of qualified special needs students until the age of 21.
But Burgee promised parents that her staff will do whatever they can to improve the situation. Staff has considered different locations for the program, including the school system administrative building on Church Street, the second Lincoln Elementary building in Frederick, or even the Hayward Road administrative building, but none of these options fully fits the needs of the program, Burgee said.
Some locations are not handicap accessible, others don't have the space for Success students, and others like Oakdale are not based in a community setting, she said.
Burgee told parents she is willing to move the program out of Oakdale High School while construction in Walkersville is completed, but she also expressed concern about moving the program twice in a few months. She also said school officials would be open to any suggestions from parents if they can think of other locations for the program.
"We'll get this done in the quickest possible manner that we can," she told parents.
While school system officials are trying to solve the issue centrally, staff at Oakdale High School has tried to help students from the program feel more comfortable at their school.
Oakdale Principal George Seaton said it took some time to figure out the specific needs of the program to help Success students settle down. He has offered the program six classrooms, a new, state-of-the-art horticultural lab and a large kitchen, as well as access to the industrial laundry at the school.
Success program can also used spacious office area and the school cafeteria for lunch and meetings. Following complaint of parents, the county has also arranged to have TransIt buses come to the school twice a week to pick up Success students, Seaton told board members Bonnie Borsa and Michael Schaden who came to see the program on Monday before the parent meeting.
In response to parents' concerns about Success students not being treated as adults, Seaton said his staff never asked students for hallway passes.
"The ninth and 10th-graders are really not their peers, I get that loud and clear," Seaton said. "But these are not restrictions imposed by Oakdale."
And it has been the choice of Success staff to keep students in two of the six classrooms they have available, in effort to give students a sense of consistency, said Penny Jurechak, coordinator for the program.
While Success parents appreciate that work, they still have concerns and say the Oakdale building is just not what they need.
Brandenburg, for example, said that her daughter Lisa, who uses a wheelchair, doesn't feel comfortable in her new classroom. She has no space to move and is constantly worried she would hurt someone with her wheelchair. She cannot take advantage of many of the program's new amenities and can't even use the new kitchen at Oakdale High, because she can't reach the sink.
She is constantly worried, and she's been fighting her anxiety attacks since the start of school this year, Brandenburg said.
"Lisa has a stomach disease and she gags from anxiety," Brandenburg said. "She likes routine."