Seven Campus School parents and the co-presidents of the Campus School Volunteers of Boston College (CSVBC) met with University officials on Thursday, Jan. 16 to voice their concerns about the potential affiliation between the Campus School and the Kennedy Day School (KDS), which would result in a relocation of the Campus School to KDS’s facilities in the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton. The seven parents, led by chairwoman of the Parent Advisory Committee Kristen Morin, BC ’86, sought to respond to the reasons the University has given for considering the merger, such as the Campus School’s dwindling enrollment and inferior facilities, as well as relate to the University officials the realities of raising and educating a child with severe disabilities. They hoped to demonstrate that it would be both possible and beneficial to keep the Campus School at its original location in Campion Hall.
“I do think it was a very good meeting,” Morin said. “They listened and asked questions.”
The proposed merger of these two special education programs has garnered much attention in the past few months. Many parents, volunteers, faculty, and BC alumni have made clear their opposition to the Campus School’s relocation by writing letters to University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., posting on Facebook, or signing and commenting on the anonymously created petition on Change.org titled “Supporters of Students with Special Needs: Don’t let BC Close the Campus School,” which had over 4,000 signatures at the time of print.
“Boston College and the Campus School have a community relationship that benefits all involved and I think that is evident in the passion that the Campus School volunteers have for the school,” said Kimberly Mitchell, a volunteer at the Campus School and LSOE ’14, in an email. “The potential merger makes me nervous because I would hate to see this magic of the Campus School be lost-I don’t think that it could be replicated in the same way in another setting.”
According to University Spokesman Jack Dunn, Franciscan Children’s Hospital first approached BC about a potential affiliation in the fall. Both programs are currently under-capacity, and BC agreed to look into merging the Campus School with KDS.
Both the Campus School and KDS serve students with special needs from the ages of 3 to 21, mostly drawing from communities within a one-hour commute. They both receive the vast majority of their students from referrals from public school districts, which pay the tuition and transportation fees for those students. They both operate on an 11-month school year, with full class days, running about six hours on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and half days-about four hours-on Wednesdays. KDS currently serves about 70 students, while the Campus School serves 38 students.
In 2012, thanks in large part to a multi-million dollar donation from New Balance, KDS was able to renovate its facilities completely, resulting in a 20,000 square-foot space on 10 acres of land, all designed specifically to meet the needs of its students. Many of the rooms, including every bathroom and spaces designed for working on mobility, have ceiling lifts to allow the students more independence than would otherwise be possible, according to KDS Program Director Bonnie Lanen. There are 14 classrooms, in addition to several other specialized rooms such as a music center, a library, a health room, a lunchroom, a sensory motor room, and a room devoted to the culinary arts. Every classroom contains a Smart Board, and students with trouble speaking can use devices that craft sentences for them based on which graphics on the screen they press or, if they don’t have the use of their hands, which graphics they look at. KDS also has a therapy pool, with both a floor that can be adjusted to the appropriate depth and act as a treadmill, and underwater cameras that project an image of the student’s legs onto a nearby TV.
“There are parents who have gone and visited-they’re very impressed and have stated to the KDS that they’re interested in enrolling their children,” Dunn said. “There are others who have been opposed to the prospect period, and what we’re asking them is to please keep an open mind because universities are good at understanding trends, and clearly the trend in special needs education is for the districts not to refer their special needs students to private programs.”
Both Lanen and Director of Marketing for KDS Deanna Dwyer are certain of KDS’s ability to accommodate all of the Campus School’s students and staff. BC has a long-standing relationship with KDS, sending many students there every year to volunteer, and Lanen has been acquainted with Campus School Director Don Ricciato for a long time. Lanen and Dwyer believe a merger would be an optimal way to continue and expand upon this relationship.
“It makes a lot of sense for us to be working together, given our proximity and our shared traditions,” Dwyer said. “Both schools are wonderful, and together we have ‘Wow’ potential.”
They admire the strong volunteer presence within the Campus School, speaking highly of the “spirit of the Campus School,” and are enthusiastic about fostering that same spirit within KDS. The administration also hopes to be able to maintain this spirit if the schools were to merge, and BC has committed to providing vans to shuttle students who wish to volunteer at KDS, according to Dunn.
To many parents and volunteers, however, the Campus School’s current location is an essential ingredient of that spirit.
“I visited KDS before break and I can attest that they do have beautiful facilities, but that is not what makes the Campus School so great,” said Chelsea Beyran, co-president of CSVBC and LSOE ’14. “What makes it beloved by so many is that it is a part of the Boston College community. BC students get the chance to form friendships with students who may be a little bit different from them, but as any volunteer will tell you, the friendships between Boston College and Campus School students are not based on inequality. Our students teach us about perseverance, hope, and most of all love.”
Beyran, Morin, and CSVBC co-president Chris Marino, A&S ’14, stressed the importance of the Campus School’s proximity in that it allows volunteers to stop in and say hi to their “buddies” whenever they have a spare moment.
“It’s right here on campus, and because of that volunteers really do have a presence in the everyday lives of the students,” Marino said.
Morin, Beyran, and Marino are worried about the volunteer organization’s ability to have the same relationship with students who attend a school almost three miles away. Many of the parents have toured KDS and witnessed firsthand its top-rate facilities, but stand by their assertion that the Campus School is the right choice for their children. According to Morin, the volunteer presence is one of the things that distinguishes the Campus School from other special education programs, making the Campus School, and not another program, the right fit for their children.
“What KDS has is not what we need,” Morin said. “We’ve never complained about our space. It’s not the most beautiful space, and would we love to have better bathrooms? Sure. Would we love to have more ceiling lifts for the kids? Absolutely. Would we rather have better communication systems for the kids? Yes. Everything else [at the Campus School] has always made you forget about that. There’s something when you walk in the door of the Campus School that just takes you, and you can’t find it anywhere else.”
Morin spearheaded the group of parents that met last Thursday with Interim Provost Joseph Quinn, Vice President for Human Resources Leo Sullivan, and Ricciato. She has been active in the debate over the Campus School’s future ever since she attended one of the meetings held in early November for parents to hear more about the affiliation from Ricciato and Dean of the Lynch School of Education Maureen Kenny. It was at this meeting, Morin said, that the meaning of the proposed affiliation became clear.
The initial emails sent from the University to parents referred only to a possible “collaborative relationship between the Campus School and the Kennedy Day School at FCH that will provide the best educational, therapeutic, and heath care services for our students.” According to Morin, parents were unaware that this would include relocating the Campus School until the following meetings with Ricciato and Kenny.
Morin has worked since then to communicate the parents’ views to the University, writing a personal letter to Leahy as well as creating a group letter, which she said was signed by the parents of all 38 students, saying that if the Campus School were to leave Campion Hall, these parents would not send their children to KDS. She and six other parents have also created a sustainability plan for the Campus School to demonstrate that despite dwindling enrollment, the Campus School will remain financially sustainable. The plan, which they presented at the meeting on Thursday, aimed to explain why the Campus School’s current low enrollment should not necessarily be seen as indicative of a continuing trend, and cited ways in which the Campus School could bring in more funds than it has in the past.
“From 2007 to 2013 in our program, 18 aged out, 10 passed away, and three could no longer attend due to their health,” Morin said. “Losing 31 kids over the course of six years is unprecedented, and it had never happened before, and it’s unlikely that it would happen again.”
She also pointed to the fact that since the summer, the Campus School has received four new students, three of whom are preschool age. In the last week, two students have been referred in from school districts.
“The referring districts are still referring kids with complex needs, especially complex health care needs, to the Campus School, because the public schools’ programs are not able to address the needs of the students in that population,” Morin said. “Basically, it’s trending younger, which allows us to stabilize and maintain a solid student base, so our preschool is the highest growth program.”
The sustainability plan also includes ways to draw upon the outpouring of support that has surfaced in the past few months from alumni who were affected by the Campus School as students. According to Morin, several alumni have offered to donate large sums of money. In addition, Morin believes that if the Campus School were allowed its own marketing and development offices, instead of leaving those to be handled by BC, it would be able to raise both awareness and funding.
Morin is hopeful that this plan will be a positive contribution to the discussions surrounding the potential relocation of the Campus School-discussions that the administration assures are ongoing and not yet definitive. The administration, Lanen, and Dwyer, continue, however, to hope that parents consider the prospect of relocating to KDS with an open mind, and will be receptive to the impact that more space and higher quality facilities can have on a student’s health.
“We have a unique opportunity to meld the best of the campus school, its students, its wonderful staff, and the BC volunteers, with the best of the KDS, its students, its wonderful staff and volunteers, and its vastly superior amenities, and it’s an opportunity that we felt compelled to consider,” Dunn said.
Dwyer echoed these sentiments, stressing that if a transition were to occur, it would be handled with the utmost care and concern for the students. All parties involved made clear their belief that the interests of the students were paramount, but differing views as to what best supports those interests require persist.