Hamden parents want a say in decision to cut YMCA program from schools
HAMDEN — Parents were excluded from the decision to pull the YMCA after-school program and they want to know why.
The Board of Education voted to contract with for-profit company Right At School instead of the YMCA for after-school programming in the upcoming school year, but parents with children in the program are upset they weren’t asked about it first and want the district to reconsider.
Sarah Madden, whose children attend the YMCA after-school program, delivered a statement on behalf of many parents expressing the value of the programs to the many families and children to use them.
“We were upset to learn our choice didn’t matter,” she said. Madden said the selection lacked transparency and consideration for the kids in the YMCA program.
Hamden parents have started a petition to save the YMCA after-school program, which had received almost 300 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
“By going with Right at School we can give parents the flexibility they’ve been asking for since I’ve been superintendent,” Superintendent of Schools Jody Goeler said. He said one reason they changed providers was that parents couldn’t work out an arrangement for only specific days with the YMCA and that RAS offers more choices.
Another reason was an ongoing lack of communication from the YMCA local management that oversaw the school programs to parents and the BOE, Goeler said.
David Stevenson, president & CEO of Central Connecticut Coast YMCA, said when the BOE raised concerns about some schools not having programs the organization didn’t rise to meet them as it should have, but the organization is committed to better communication in the future.
“We’ve had this partnership for many years,” Stevenson said. “Regardless of the decision, we’ll always be your partner.”
Other parents spoke about their disappointment in not being asked what choice they would make for an after-school program, especially since the YMCA has been like a family for them.
Staci Walden said finding an after-school program for her child with special needs was difficult because nobody would take him, except for the YMCA, and “now he’s thriving.”
“There’s a sense of family, friendship and network at the YMCA and we’re asking you to reconsider for the parents and for the children that get that support,” she said.
Other parents who have children in special education told the same story as Walden, saying other programs wouldn’t take their children because they had to be with staff one-to-one, but the YMCA accommodated them.
Another mother said consistency is important for special education children and the new program doesn’t promise better.
“The BOE fails to realize what it means to the children,” Walden said.
Other parents with children in the program said the YMCA is their support system because the staff have longstanding relationships with their families.
The Right at School contract extends one year and the BOE said in that time it will evaluate how things go.
Julia Istomina, whose son attends the YMCA after-school program, said the district shouldn’t be experimenting with their children’s programs.
“A year in a young child’s life, if you gut what you’ve built, that can have an impact on the rest of their lives,” she said.
The 41 YMCA employees working solely in the after-school programs live mostly in Hamden, Stevenson said. They will lose their jobs and if Hamden decides to return to the YMCA program in a year, “To rebuild all of that after disassembling, would be very challenging,” he said.
Christine Stopka has her child in the YMCA program, but didn’t have the great experience many other parents shared. Still, she said she was concerned that the BOE chose to contract Right at School without community input or putting the contract out to bid.
Board of Education Chairman Chris Daur said the district has signed a contract with Right at School for the upcoming school year and as of now is moving forward with it.
Daur said the district is still in a 90-day grace period in which they could break the contract and the BOE will discuss families’ concerns. But Daur said they were still concerned about the bad experiences of some parents and that only 146 Hamden students — fewer than 10 percent — were enrolled in the YMCA after-school program.
“We’ll talk as a board to see the best way forward,” he told parents.