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State rejects plans for former Building Blocks Day Care building, district appealing decision

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POTSDAM - The New York State Education Department of has rejected the district’s plans to renovate the former Building Blocks Day Care building located on its campus and then rent the space to BOCES to house an autism program for special education students.

“The district is required to receive approval from the P-12 Special Education following an instructional space review,” Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said. “We’ve been working on this project for pretty close to a year, but without their approval we would be back to square one and looking at our programming needs.”

The district had been planning a March 27 referendum for a $350,000 capital project that would have renovated the building to make it suitable for BOCES’ needs.

Mr. Brady said the reason given for rejection was the perceived segregation of high needs students from the rest of the student population.

“This has not been seen as an issue in the past,” he said, adding that changed this past fall. “They are now taking a closer look at how these buildings are being used.”

Mr. Brady said he understands the need to mainstream students, and that is something the district does as often as possible. In fact, Mr. Brady said across the entire St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES district only 15 students are entirely separated from other student populations.

After speaking with officials from the state education department, Mr. Brady said the district has been encouraged to appeal the situation.

“This is a good space for the program,” he said. “It is on our campus and will meet the needs of two 6-1-1 programs for students who are not generally mainstreamed.”

Mr. Brady also noted that the students wouldn’t be entirely segregated, as they would attend adaptive physical education and eat lunch in regular school buildings. High school students would also attend technical education programs in the high school.

When the decision is made to not mainstream students, it is often done for good reasons, Mr. Brady said, citing class room distractions and “sometimes violent tendencies. By keeping them in a separate location, we feel it will keep them from the most restricted classification, which is residential.”

Mr. Brady said there are no residential facilities in the area. “They are all downstate,” he said. “That is not good for the families. We find that tears families apart.”

Mr. Brady said he will be in Albany next week with St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas Burns to discuss the appeal with department officials.

“With that building, nothing has been easy,” he said.

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