The most important issue to the majority in the large audience at Tuesday night's school board meeting was not whether or not the board would go forward with a parcel tax (that decision is reported on page 1) but instead the fate of the special education Foothills School.
Parents and staff from the school spoke to the board during public communications on the importance of keeping the school at its present 4490 Cornishon Ave. location. The district was made aware last week of the possibility that the Foothills School would be closed and the students moved to a larger Burbank facility, Magnolia Park School.
Foothills School has a present enrollment of six. These children, explained one parent, are the ones who can easily fall through the cracks.
“They are invisible,” she said.
Parents argued that shutting the La Cañada location down and transferring the students to Burbank would be, in some cases, devastating to their children.
“We moved to La Cañada because of this school,” said one parent whose son attends Foothills. “They have nurtured him at Foothills and he is now in dual enrollment with La Cañada High School.”
Suzanne Trulik, a teacher at Foothills, argued that the students at the La Cañada location couldn't easily move to Burbank.
“Now they can get on a bus and a quick ride down to the high school,” she said.
Trulik explained that getting in a taxi to travel to Burbank would be extremely difficult for the Foothills children, who live in this area.
“These are your students,” Trulik said. “You should want to keep your kids in your district. Isn't the goal to serve our kids in our community?”
Wendy Sinnette, assistant superintendent of human resources, told the audience that the vote for the evening was to allow the district to send out lay-off notices to teachers at the Foothill Schools if in fact it is ultimately recommended to move to Burbank. In accordance to state law, districts must notify teachers who will be laid off by March 15. The district voted to allow those notices to be set, but the fate of the school is not in the hands of the board.
Special Education Local Area (SELPA), an organization that is separate from the districts it serves, controls the school. The decision on whether the school stays open in La Cañada rests with that agency.
School board members had not heard of the issue until Tuesday night.
“This is all very confusing,” said Jeanne Broberg, vice president of the district's school board. “To keep with the timeline we need to give notice [to the teachers of possible lay-offs] but really this is like putting the cart in front of the horse.”
Perhaps one of the most emotional testimonies came from a Montrose grandmother who praised the school for giving her grandson hope.
“He has been in many special education classes in La Crescenta and no one was able to help him,” she said. “Finally I was told about Foothills School. I went to a meeting and cried through the thing.”
The grandmother broke down several times as she related to the board how her grandson had changed within weeks and now the fear of moving may push him back instead of forward.
“I am afraid that if it moves I may lose him again,” she said. “You can't do this to him. I finally got him back.”
The board was visibly moved by all the testimonies from the audience. President Joel Peterson made it clear there was a consensus among the board to keep the school in La Cañada. More information on the move will be forthcoming from SELPA including its recommendation. Until then the board, the teachers, the students and their families can only wait.