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Upset parents say Kanawha school officials bungled alternative elementary plans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A group of riled-up parents told the Kanawha County school board members on Thursday that the district had bungled plans to place a turnaround program for elementary students with behavioral problems at Kanawha City Elementary School."We don't want to come off as parents that don't want these types of students at the school," said Shane Hudnall, PTA president for Kanawha City Elementary. "But we are concerned with how the program was prepared and the lack of communication with parents. There are just too many unanswered questions."In January, Kanawha County received a $300,000 school innovation zone grant from the state Department of Education for an eight-week pilot initiative to help about a dozen at-risk elementary school children work through their behavioral issues.The county decided to house the program, which begins this August, in a portable classroom at Kanawha City Elementary School but failed to consult parents about their feelings about the program's placement."Had we been approached or talked with, we could have helped work out something to make it better," said Hudnall, citing issues with parking and traffic that could result from the program.Earlier this week, Bob Calhoun, Kanawha County director of elementary education, spoke to a large gathering of parents and community members at Kanawha City to try to allay concerns about how the turnaround program would be implemented.
On Thursday, Hudnall presented a petition with more than 300 signatures from parents who opposed placing the intervention program at Kanawha City.Yet Erma Morton, the mother of a first-grade son at Kanawha City, said she still had serious concerns about the safety and feasibility of the program for the 12 at-risk children in the grant program."If these kids have anger and behavior issues, putting them inside in a portable next to a playground, it seems they would get angrier," said Morton. "We all agree there needs to be a program for these kids, but I think they need a brick and mortar building, not a portable."Calhoun, however, said the children selected for the turnaround initiative are not violent offenders, but just "kids that need a little extra help."Calhoun said the program aims to target children with behavioral problems early on so "they won't be issues in middle and high school."As part of the intervention program, the students work on math and reading two days a week in a classroom setting and maintain contact with their home school by logging into their original classes by computer. Students will also meet with a psychologist to work through their emotional issues and have a once-a-week therapy session with their parents.The school board agreed to halt any immediate plans to place the intervention program at Kanawha City until it was discussed with parents and community members at an upcoming board meeting. Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.
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