PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — At a heated Portland Public Schools Board meeting on Tuesday night, parents spoke up about the decision to dismantle Pioneer School, a program for students with physical and developmental disabilities.
“I have an 11-year-old who needs more help than special ed services can be provided in the community schools,” parent Norene Hough said.
Now the Pioneer School building will house ACCESS Academy, a program for gifted students.
PPS announced its plan to save ACCESS Academy, which the district originally planned to dismantle before protests from students and parents caught Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero’s attention.
The ripple effect of dispersing students from Pioneer will be felt at other schools as the district fights overcrowding. Pioneer’s K-5th graders will move together to Applegate, while middle and high school students will be dispersed to other schools.
Students with disabilities who currently attend the Pioneer School will still receive special services, just at different schools in the area.
Parents feel both programs should have their own space, but many are upset about a decision they feel was made behind closed doors.
“Families and communities that know the most about this school and the students were not included in this process,” said Suzanne Cohen, president of the Portland Association of Teachers.
District leaders said Pioneer being dismantled to make room for gifted students is not about preferential treatment.
“It’s never the district’s intention to pit one school community against another and we don’t believe that’s what’s happening here,” spokesperson Dave Northfield said.
Some parents and activists at the meeting don’t blame ACCESS Academy at all, especially after it once faced the same fate.
“We all have to fight for our children no matter what their level of intelligence or level of disability is,” Pioneer parent Lisa Jensen said. “I don’t think this is ACCESS versus Pioneer.”
The plan will go into effect in the 2018-2019 school year.