By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — The School Department is shuttering its Rangerland preschool next week over what administrators said were concerns for the safety of the high school students who walk to work in the program.
The decision was announced to parents of children in Rangerland in a letter dated Nov. 14 from one of the high school associate principals and the school’s vocational program supervisor. Parents said they felt like the decision came out of the blue and would be too disruptive to young children away from home for the first time.
“I was in complete and utter shock,” said parent Krysten Reynolds. “We weren’t ever brought together to talk about it to handle the situation without shutting it.”
The School Department said Rangerland, a one-year morning preschool open to 4-year-olds in Methuen that is taught by high school students with a faculty supervisor, will be closed Nov. 29 because of safety concerns for some of the high schoolers. Rangerland was moved to Tenney Grammar School this school year while the high school is being renovated.
Parents said Superintendent Judith Scannell told them at a meeting Monday night that several high school students felt unsafe at times when they were walking from the high school across Pleasant View Street to the Tenney, parents said.
Parents have the option of enrolling their child in the preschool at their local grammar school at the lower Rangerland rate, but officials told parents that they cannot guarantee every child will get into their neighborhood grammar school. Additionally, the grammar school preschool sessions are in the afternoon, disrupting work and ride arrangements parents have based upon a morning preschool schedule.
Several said they enrolled their children in the program because the feeling of community they felt by having high school students participating.
“I want to encourage city pride and be part of something that gives back to the community,” said parent Susan LaPorta. “You know the families, you know the people. There’s a sense of community when you have students helping other students.”
At the Monday meeting, Scannell spoke to the parents and handed out a document outlining the cost of other options, such as arranging transportation for the high school students to the Tenney and hiring a crossing guard, options the superintendent said would each cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“It was a very frustrating meeting,” Reynolds said. “We gave (Scannell) a bunch of options. We were willing to walk the girls to the Tenney. We all said, ‘Let us walk them, we’ll get CORI checks and everything.’”
“This is a rash decision,” said LaPorta. “I think you make a decision like this and one set of students’ situations only was thought of. They were not looking at the 4- and 5-year-olds involved in this situation. This is their first school experience. A change like that could really impact how they feel about school.”
No vote was taken by the School Committee on the decision, but some members said they supported Scannell’s decision.
“I have full faith that the superintendent and administration made the right call here,” School Committee member Evan Chaisson said in an email to The Eagle-Tribune. “This was a safely issue and the Methuen School Department’s first priority is the safety of all the children. I support the superintendent 100 percent, that’s for the record. Rangerland is not required by Methuen public schools. It’s an extra that we offer.”
Another member, Lynn Hajjar Kumm, emailed a similar response to LaPorta, who had written to express her frustration with the preschool closing.
“I spoke to the Superintendent regarding this matter, and fully support her decision,” Kumm wrote. “I believe the options Superintendent Scannell presented to impacted parents were fair and reasonable.”
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