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Economic climate may defer reinstatement of curriculum

Date: 12/1/2008

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW Despite the fact that the members of the School Committee support the implementation of a new health curriculum at the high school, the tough economic climate may prevent the program from being developed.

"The problem with it [creating a health curriculum] is dealing with cuts from the state," School Committee Chair Christine Swanson said at the committee's meeting last Monday. "It's a financially challenging year for us. We don't know if we can do anything [with this proposal] this year ... It will be a part of our discussions."

The Longmeadow High School Parent Advisory Council (LHS PAC) met with the School Committee three times in the past year to present their concerns regarding the lack of a health curriculum at the secondary school level. Debbie Taylor, president of the PAC, came before the committee last week to ensure their concerns were still being considered.

Taylor noted that since the PAC came before the School Committee in January, the group funded a number of health-related assemblies at the high school, including "From Binge to Blackout," which covered teen drinking; "Love Labor Lost," in which students learned about public health in the Third World; and "Can I Kiss You?," which discussed sexual assault awareness, communication, respect, dating intimacy, caring and consent.

The PAC is also providing funding for the reinstated Peer Leadership class and stress management seminars for seniors at the high school, which take place during physical education periods.

Up to this point, the PAC has used $13,000 of their funds to pay for health-related events at the high school. They are looking to the School Committee to hire a full-time health curriculum teacher for an annual salary of about $50,000.

"We may see a 15 percent cut in state aid, and we're already looking at a two to three million [dollar] deficit in FY11," Rob Aseltine, vice-chair of the School Committee, said. "To do this [create a health curriculum], we will be reallocating resources."

Committee member John Fitzgerald added, "To do this, we would have to ask the town for more money." He added that once enough information on the proposal was gathered, he would be prepared to make a case for the funding to the public.

"We need assurance it's a priority," Fran Cress, a member of the PAC, stated. "We don't want it to take precedence over the existing program ... but lip service is insufficient."

"The challenge is getting our district staff to come up with ways to make stuff happen," committee member Geoff Weigand said. "I know they're tough financial times, but let's spin it around and ask what can we do?"

Superintendent E. Jahn Hart added, "Budget issues aside, it's an educational priority."

Four members of the LHS PAC were present at the Nov. 24 meeting, and the School Committee had also received six letters from other concerned parents prior to the meeting supporting the reinstatement of a health curriculum.

The PAC has also sent out a questionnaire letter to school administration and teachers, medical professionals and parents and is gathering information from this to make a presentation to the School Committee on Jan. 28, 2009.