UPDATE 3/5/12 @ 10:35 p.m.
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Controversy is brewing over a planned alternative school in Kanawha County. It's set to open this fall, but its location isn't sitting well with parents. Now they've put together a petition to stop it from happening.
"We're just unknowledgeable about the whole process and whenever the process happens behind the scene and it's ingested upon you, instantaneously you're going to be distrustful about the process," Alan Long said.
Long is just one of the dozens of people who signed the petition. He's against the Kanawha County Board of Education putting an alternative school in a portable classroom at Kanawha City Elementary.
"As a community and as a whole, we've been pretty much caught off guard and really haven't been communicated with in regards to the school coming here and why this school was coming here," he said.
Petitioners want alternative students placed at a facility separate from a mainstream school. In their petition, they claim alternative students don't belong in the building and the other students will be frightened and distracted by the presence of an off limits portable classroom.
Bob Calhoun is the director of Elementary Education and said the program is simply misunderstood.
"When you hear alternative program, you start to think of kids that shouldn't be in school, period," he said. "But this isn't really, we use the term alternative to start with but we're now looking at is as an intervention program."
Calhoun said the program is for kids up to 5th grade who have behavioral issues in the classroom and have been expelled. He said unsafe students wouldn't be permitted.
"I think once people understand the program they'll understand that it's not something that's negative," he said. "It's actually something we're really proud of."
The alternative school is supposed to be at the school being built along Edgewood Drive. But since the grant money is available now and that school won't be ready until 2014, school officials had to find somewhere to run it. KCE provides everything they're looking for.
Still, parents claim the board made this decision without their knowledge and they hope this petition will convince them to reconsider it or provide them the answers they're looking for.
The Board of Education will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, March 12, to clarify some of the confusion and to give folks a chance to voice their concerns.
Fifth-grade teacher Jason Henley has worked at Andrews Heights Elementary for 15 years. He's been teaching in a portable classroom for about 10 of them.
“The consolidation happened, and we were still utilizing the portables that we weren't supposed to be utilizing anymore,” Henley said.
More classrooms were added when two schools joined under one roof, but it wasn't enough. The overcrowding forced the school to keep students in the portable classrooms.
“I think these are really pretty crummy places, to tell you the truth,” Janet Brown, a grandparent, said. “I think all the children should be housed in one building.”
That's just what the board is trying to do. Members took action Monday -- deciding to ask the School Building Authority to make additions and renovations to the school the top "needs" priority.
“I think it's also a better instructional atmosphere that everybody's included in the building rather than having them go back and forth with bad weather and everything,” Superintendent Ron Duerring said.
Teachers like Henley are excited to see the project moving forward.
“It’s outstanding,” Henley said. “Our parents and our community have all backed now for several years -- the opportunity to get rid of the portables.”
The board is also asking the SBA to make additions to John Adams Middle School and get rid of the portable classrooms there. They're expecting a decision to be made about that sometime this fall.
A decision about the additions to Andrews Heights will not be made until the spring.
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