MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Tuesday, several of Manchester’s public middle school principals requested to move a pair of classrooms for autistic children due to expected student enrollment increases over the next school year.
Currently, the district’s four middle school autistic classrooms are located at Parkside Middle School. However, after learning that Parkside is expected to grow from 890 to 930 students, including a net of 10 more autistic students, the principals agreed that it would be optimal to move two of those classrooms to McLaughlin Middle School.
The principals did not provide the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) much information beyond the enrollment data, an estimated cost of $2,000 to $3,000 to make the move, and a notification that Parkside’s art and music programs would have to be moved onto carts to make room for the autistic program expansion if some of the classes could not move.
Several members of the BOSC thanked the principals for the update, but also expressed frustration with the lack of notification or details on the proposal, which came to the attention of the board only hours before the meeting within an update already on the meeting’s agenda.
Ward 4 BOSC Member Leslie Want noted a lack of resources dedicated to the expansion of fifth grade classes into the city’s middle school as a possible cause for the issue, and recommended that the principals request more money for the move.
Ward 11 BOSC Member Dr. Nicole Leapley echoed Want in advising that the principals should ask for more funding if needed, stating that Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds could be allocated given the overcrowding she has seen already at Parkside prior to Tuesday’s announcement.
Ward 3 BOSC Member Karen Soule and Ward 10 BOSC Member Gary Hamer noted the difficulty that autistic students face when transitioning into new routines. Hamer, a parent of a now grown autistic student, said that the issue here is not the geographic location, but adjusting to the students into a new geographic location after they have become accustomed to their old classrooms.
At-Large BOSC Member and BOSC Vice Chair Jim O’Connell said that the notification highlighted the need to finalize the district’s pending facilities plan. He also noted that the issue highlighted the need for more arts funding, building on the shortcoming of space and other infrastructure for arts programs on the west side as well as recent student art exhibitions he found impressive that deserve more support.
No action was taken on the topic during Tuesday’s meeting.