ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For kids living with autism, change is extremely difficult.
Routine is ideal and safe.
But a change teachers say is planned by Albuquerque Public Schools would mean a big swap in some middle schoolers’ life: a new school.
Hoover Middle School teachers say they were told Hoover’s special education program would be dissolved in the 2019-20 school year, and the students will have to move to Hayes and Madison middle schools.
The move is in part due to Hayes’ new program and in part because of “capital outlay and transportation,” according to teachers.
APS spokeswoman Johanna King wrote in an email to the Journal that plans for the 2019-20 year are still in the discussion stage.
“No decisions have been made at this point,” she said, “and it’s premature to speculate.”
However, teachers say that’s not how it was presented to them.
King didn’t return answers to questions on what is being discussed for the 2019-20 school year at Hoover or how teachers are under the impression the school’s program would be eliminated.
“It was made clear to us we would have the program for one more year and then it would be moved to Hayes,” said Dana Ziegler, a speech language pathologist at Hoover.
Hoover teachers say officials from the district came to the school in person and made the announcement in an “emergency meeting.”
On Tuesday, Ziegler said she hadn’t heard anything to the contrary from the district.
“I think the entire special education department was shell-shocked by the decision,” said Ziegler.
Originally, Hoover’s kids in the special education program were going to have to move this coming school year, but after Hoover community members spoke at a Board of Education meeting, the district announced it would hold off the move for a school year, Ziegler explained. The Board of Education spoke words of support at that meeting, emphasizing the district has to do what’s best for the kids.
But pushing the move back a year isn’t a cure-all.
Ziegler noted the change would still be particularly difficult for Hoover’s incoming seventh-graders who will be faced with a transition to a new program in their eighth-grade year with this decision and then again shortly after when they move to high school.
“We are heartbroken that our team will be torn apart,” she said.
Ziegler has been a teacher at Hoover for three years and worked with the district for 16. She’s seen first-hand the positive impact the program has on students.
“We have a phenomenal special education team,” she said.
Teachers said they feel the decision was out of the blue and said it’s a choice easier made on paper than in practice.
“The district is focused primarily on numbers, and not on kids and individual programs,” Ziegler said.
Teachers in the Hoover special education program were given the option to either go to Hayes or find another job in the district, explained Coleen Lizewski, who has been teaching the program for eight years.
She called the decision to move the kids “hasty.”
“I don’t think they put much thought into the students,” Lizewski said, adding she wished the district would visit her program to see its effects.
She worried about the students having to get used to a new environment and staff.
“Across the board, everyone knows the kids, it’s a close-knit community,” she said.
Lizewski used the drama program at Hoover as an example, saying that Drama Director Dale Simpkins is great with kids in her class, and said theater has taught the kids confidence and social skills.