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Boston College plans to move facility criticized

Merger with nearby school for disabled is poor option, parents say

Parents are deeply upset that Boston College is planning to merge a school for disabled children that has been located on its Chestnut Hill campus for 43 years with another school located about 3 miles away at the Franciscan Hospital for Children.

Boston College officials say they are exploring the merger because enrollment at the Campus School has declined to 38 from 49 in 2007, and say the Kennedy Day School at the Franciscan in Brighton has a new 20,000-square-foot facility with better amenities and programs.

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But parents say they have been blindsided by the move and believe the school’s unique culture will be lost if it is relocated from a college campus to a hospital.

“I don’t want him to be in a hospital setting; I want him to be in a school setting,” said Kelly Sutton, whose son, Devon, 17, has been a student at the Campus School for 11 years. “Who sends their kids to a hospital to go to school?”

She and other parents accuse Boston College of betraying its moral obligation to serve young people with severe special needs. Like other students at the Campus School, Devon uses a wheelchair, is blind, and requires a feeding tube. But he has thrived at the school, Kelly Sutton said, and enjoys being outside and listening to music. The school is private, but publicly funded and has served as a training ground for BC students who volunteer there.

‘Who sends their kids to a hospital to go to school?’

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“I think it’s shameful. I really do,” Kelly Sutton said of the merger. “I think it’s the antithesis of what the Jesuit mission is all about.”

BC officials say that consolidating the Campus School with the Kennedy Day School will result in better services for the students.

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College officials say that, while the Campus School is located in a crowded section of the Lynch School of Education, the Kennedy Day School boasts a 1o-acre campus with a sensory motor room, therapy pool, gymnasium, and adaptive communication and assistive technology in each classroom.

“Both schools are under-capacity and face declining enrollment as the local school districts increasingly seek to retain their special-needs students,” BC’s interim provost, Joseph F. Quinn, wrote in a letter to parents.

“As a result, we feel compelled to explore the possibility of an affiliation with the goal of melding the best of the Campus School, including our students, staff and volunteers, with the best of the Kennedy Day School.”

Jack Dunn, a BC spokesman, said the merger is still in the planning stages, but if it is finalized, students and staff from the Campus School would be moved to the Kennedy Day School in fall 2014.

“The reality is, they have vastly superior facilities,” Dunn said.

“The most important thing from our perspective is we have limited space,” Dunn added.

Parents have started online petitions and appealed to BC’s president, Rev. William P. Leahy, to reconsider the merger.

“The unique culture and environment of our school is exactly why we chose BC for our children,” Kristen Morin, the chairwoman of the Parent’s Advisory Council at the Campus School, said in a letter to Leahy. “The [college’s] student body and their uncontrollable enthusiasm to make a difference in the world make them a constant in our children’s unpredictable lives. This relationship cannot be transferred or replicated three miles away at an institution run by hospital administrators.”

Dunn said BC is trying to be responsive to parents and hopes they will tour the Kennedy Day School.

“We understand their concerns, and recognize that change is difficult, particularly for parents of special-needs students,” Dunn said.

“But in light of the changing landscape of special education, we’re asking the parents to keep an open mind.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.

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