District, parents at odds over at-risk program ‘Work and Learn’

An incident in a Madison elementary school bathroom this week has parents concerned for their children’s safety.

Madison Police said staff at Glenn Stephens Elementary found a 17-year-old high school student unresponsive in a bathroom Monday.

Police said they later discovered the teen was carrying a small amount of marijuana and a marijuana pipe. They cited and released the boy, said Madison police spokesperson Joel DeSpain.

The 17-year-old was at the school as part of the “Work and Learn” program, which allows high schoolers at risk of not graduating to interact with younger kids in classroom settings.

District, parents at odds over at-risk program ‘Work and Learn’

This incident has parents criticizing the program.

“It just presents an issue with at-risk kids being around 4-year-old to 12-year-old kids who can’t really judge for themselves what is or isn’t appropriate,” said parent Bryan Koch, who has three kids at Stephens Elementary School.

The school’s principal sent a letter to parents dated Thursday, apologizing for the “delayed communication” about the incident.

More should have been done, Koch said.

“Some of the parents knew more information than some of the teachers and the educators there,” he said. “I wish that there was better protocol for handing out information and really protecting the kids at the school.”

Support for the “Work and Learn” program, which also places high school students into Lapham Elementary School on Madison’s east side, appears to be high at the top levels of the district.

“We’ve had very good success since they moved into those two locations,” said school board member Arlene Silveira, who supports the program. “There are some really good success stories. It’s a great program, and hopefully this is just something to the side and we’ll move on.”

Silveira said the program’s benefits included allowing students to interact with younger kids with a classroom setting.

Stephens parents will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the program at a May 8 parent-teacher meeting with the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Until now, very few complaints about the program have come into the district’s administrative office, said Nancy Yoder, director of alternative education.

“My intention is that out of the meeting we (will) have with the Stephens community, it will give us the kind of input we need to reexamine and move forward (to address) those concerns,” Yoder said.

She declined to speak about possible changes.

“There’s nothing more important than ensuring the safety of our students,” Yoder said.

There have been no major incidents during the two-year history of the program at Stephens, nor have there been problems at Lapham, Yoder said.

For parents like Koch, getting the high school students out of the elementary school is the only option.

“I think it would take some extraordinary measures to assuage my fears and the fears of other parents,” he said. “We’re talking about a very large group of people at this point who feel this is a legitimate issue.”