Westport community left shocked and outraged after child development courses suddenly stripped

Westport community left shocked and outraged after child development courses suddenly stripped

By Margot Mather ’17

In a meeting on Friday Jan. 27 with concerned parents and teachers, Principal James D’Amico announced that the Child Development 1 and 2 and Child Study courses will be terminated next year, while allowing the preschoolers who are currently enrolled to attend until the end of the school year.

In cutting these courses, the decision will also end the Staples playschool program next year where children from ages three to four worked with Staples students in a learning experience.

An audit by district professionals from local preschools and input from Staples’ special education staff also contributed to the decisions to terminate the Child Development and Child Study programs.

While some students and preschool parents were notified last Monday of this change, Superintendent Colleen Palmer notified all parents and Westport staff on Friday, Jan. 27, explaining that, by law, playschools must be equipped “to identify any developmental delays in the realms of communication, movement, and/or cognition” and pointed out that  “one dedicated teacher and a class of enthusiastic high school students, no matter how committed, could simply not meet all of the needs of the preschoolers.”

Students and parents suggested  hiring more staff to combat the issue of limited resources, but Palmer responded that, “In order to continue the playschool, we would have to hire additional staff […] that would incur significant costs beyond that which we have managed thus far.”

Bri Rotella ’17 has been involved in the playschool program since her sophomore year and recognizes the inconveniences that parents will now face. “They [the parents] will most likely not be able to find a preschool. That is unfair and just horrible,” Rotella said.

Rotella also objected to the administration’s justification for cancelling the classes. “Their reasoning was how the children are not getting their needs met I just think that isn’t the slightest bit true. They were very secretive with the whole process,” Rotella said.

Some parents also feel that the administration could have been more forthcoming and transparent. “Everybody did this behind closed doors,” Angela Ethier, a Staples parent with a daughter, Julia Ethier ’17, in the Child Development course, said, “and I think they did that because they knew what a valued course this is, and I think they were anticipating the outcry.”

According to Ethier, the school has asked Child Development teacher Linda McClary to refer all questions and discussion to administration.

“Basically they silenced her,” an anonymous source added. “They don’t want her talking about it. It was clear that not only was that the case, nobody was told about this ahead of time.”

The community has rallied in defense of the courses. “There are way too many people who care about this program to just let it slide and to keep our mouths shut,” Rotella said.

In fact a petition was enacted by students in Child Development on change.org titled “Keep Entire Child Development program and Staff” and has over 500 signatures.

I am personally very disappointed. This class and my time with Ms. Linda was some of the best I’ve had in any schooling experience,” Eric Schwartz ’19, a student enrolled in Child Development, said.

In order to fulfill the interest of Staples students to pursue child studies programs at the school, D’Amico announced he would be adding a new course titled Child Psychology and Development with a pre requisite of Global Themes.

Current child development student Juliette Schwebel ’19 said,  “Overall, for me, it seems like a fair compromise, but I can understand why other people would think otherwise.”

And some students do object.

“I don’t think that’s a fair compromise,” Rotella said. “There has never been any issues with the programs. Mrs. McClary […] deserves to continue these classes the way they should be.”

Photo contributed from Staples playschool