Published May 21. 2013 4:00AM
East Lyme - Parents worried about mixing high school and elementary students in the same building raised concerns Monday about running the Coastal Connections high school program out of Niantic Center School.
The program, which includes about 25 high school students, calls for them to attend classes three days a week and have internships the other two days, according to Program Director Mike Sullivan. It is currently located in a Flanders Road building that houses a children's day care center, a dentist and special education program for students 18 to 21.
In a presentation to Niantic Center School parents, Coastal Connections students spoke about their internships and future plans, while administrators showed how the two groups of students would be in distinct areas of the building with separate entrances.
During the meeting, which was attended by about 50 people, some parents questioned the security of the proposal. There were questions about how the doors between the two sections would be locked and if students would interact with each other.
The proposal is part of an effort to cut rental costs, as well as other savings in oil and transportation, to preserve the student programs and not lay off teachers in light of a $650,000 cut in the proposed school budget, explained Superintendent of Schools James Lombardo.
Lombardo said moving the program to Niantic Center School would save at least $12,000. Some parents said it would be less.
Coastal Connection is also looking for a new home because the special education program for 18-to-21-year-olds, which is now housed in the same building as Coastal Connections, would need more space next year as more students enter the program.
Lombardo addressed the fact that there was some misinformation about the Coastal Connections program such as that it includes expelled students. He said the high school students would have different schedules than the elementary school students.
One Coastal Connections parent said that the high school students understand real-world behavior and work in a variety of settings, such as volunteering at charities.
"I think your kids will benefit from our kids being here," said John Leonard, whose daughter attends the program.
But parents emphasized that it was not the quality of the students or programs they were concerned about, but the mixing of any high school students with younger students, as well as fears after the Newtown tragedy.
One resident, Maureen Hahn, suggested the alternative of bringing the fifth-graders back to the elementary schools and then using the middle school space for the high school program, which would be "much more age appropriate."
Lombardo said he would reflect on what was said as the meeting with other administrators before deciding whether or not to make a recommendation to the board next week.