Two new Stowe members Monday night joined the seven-person Lamoille South school board, filling the vacancies left by the resignations of Cara Zimmerman and Leigh Pelletier, and representatives from Elmore, Morristown and Stowe worked on policies for the new merged district and heard a presentation about support services in the schools.
Jessica Spencer, the district’s director of student services, went beyond the world of MTSS (multi-tiered systems of support), IEPs (individualized education plans), ESTs (educational support teams) and 504s — formal plans for students with learning disabilities, named after a section of the 1973 U.S. Rehabilitation Act.
She offered glimpses as to how many students across the district receive these kinds of services, and brought the outside world into the equation.
Lamoille County has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the state and one of the highest rates of suicide in the country.
Spencer said the school district’s definition of childhood homelessness doesn’t necessarily mean living in the streets. Rather, it means a child doesn’t have “regular, fixed and adequate” housing. Kids and/or their parents could be living at a friends’ or relatives’ house temporarily, or in a hotel.
“We also have some people living out of cars,” she said.
Andi Tisdell, a student and a regular participant at Lamoille South board meetings, added that the annual Youth Risk Behavioral Survey that students fill out could offer insight into students’ home lives, such as the last time a survey-taker ate.
Spencer provided some local data on the programs that fall under the “umbrella” of multi-tiered support systems.
Of the Lamoille South population of 1,552 students, 14 percent of them, 216 students, are on individualized learning plans. The plans are designed to be a “blueprint” of a child’s education services, and are available for students who have an identified learning disability, based on 13 categories. Learning plans are reviewed once a year.
There is a higher percentage of students on these types of plans in Morristown schools than Stowe schools: 18 percent of Peoples Academy Middle School students and 17 percent each at Morristown Elementary and PA.
Stowe’s percentages: 9 percent of elementary school students, 10 percent of high schoolers and 13 percent of middle schoolers. Elmore students weren’t included since the school population is so small.
Other key support services include the district’s Educational Support Team and its 504 plan program; about 5 percent of the school population is on these types of plans.
Spencer said the Education Support Team is “the first level of intervention for a student at the classroom level.” Here, the population is more centered in Stowe, where 37 elementary school students are on that plan, compared to 27 Morristown Elementary students. The rest of the schools are too small to include in the data, for risk of violating confidentiality.
On the other end, a 504 plan focuses more on access, not instruction. Students on these plans have a disability that significantly impacts a “major life activity,” which Spencer said includes things like walking and breathing. U.S. civil rights law requires public buildings and workplaces to remove barriers to people with disabilities.
In other business
• Brenda Gravel, a former Lamoille South central office employee who was fired in 2017 the day after her house burned down, was at the meeting to dispute what previous meeting minutes reflect about her previous comments. The minutes for the Nov. 4 meeting simply read that “Brenda Gravel spoke about her unemployment claim.”
Gravel emailed the board last week, saying “the mention of the unemployment claim was to reiterate that she (superintendent Tracy Wrend) told the Vermont Department of Labor that she fired me ‘specifically for violations of open meeting laws.’ ” She asked the board Monday to change the meeting minutes to reflect what she says was her true intent. The board tabled making the meeting minutes official until a later date, at new board chairman David Bickford’s suggestion.
• The board designated new Stowe member Norm Williams to talk to Stowe municipal officials, including the select board, about reconsidering its decision to charge the Lamoille South district to use the Stowe Arena.
Williams, a longtime Stowe High School history teacher who retired at the end of the last school year, is also a former Stowe select board member. He was also known for sending generations of Stowe students to select board meetings as part of his local government class.
Said Williams, “I suspect the board, knowing some of us, might listen to us.”