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Gustavus Adolphus Family Services closing in February

JAMESTOWN — Only 18 of at least 60 students remain at the soon-to-be closed Gustavus Adolphus Family Services Learning Center.

Tom Holt, GA Family Services president and CEO, said the anticipated closure of the Learning Center and the Residential Treatment Center is set for Feb. 14.

However, some employees and parents impacted by the closure of the facilities had urged the organization during the transition to postpone its action until the end of the current school year.

“In relation to the GA Learning Center specifically, we have successfully placed many of our students in alternative learning environments already. Those placements have gone very smoothly,” Holt told said in a statement.

The two centers set for closure, and GA Family Services, are managed through Lutheran Social Services.

Those concerned, including parents of at-risk students and others who work directly with them, worry the end of the organization’s Residential Treatment Center and Learning Center in the middle of the 2019-20 school year will enhance adverse impacts among youth.

A letter obtained by the newspaper that was shared to members of the Learning Center Employees’ Union detailed reports from other members about the closure’s impact. Included were testimonies from GA employees describing students with increased anxiety regarding the closure and outbursts of bad behavior as a result of the announcement.

“It seems very inappropriate to close an educational facility in the middle of the school year,” Robert Gebhard, a computer science teacher, wrote to the board.

“Our students’ academic program should not be disrupted this way. They struggle enough as it is to make progress academically without having to switch schools. Their courses will be disrupted, they will have to attempt to form relationships with new teachers and staff, and will deal with the stresses of a new circle of peers.”

Many cited in the letter credit the Learning Center in helping students graduate and improve behavioral issues. The letter detailed concerns of removing students from their current services and programming before the end of the school year as well as eliminating relationships with support staff that have been made at the Learning Center.

For one family, a potential postponement would not affect them as their child has already found a new school. Danielle Flagg said her son has been moved to the Randolph Academy Union Free School District.

She described her son’s last day at the Learning Center last week as “very emotional.”

“It’s unreal what they’re doing to them,” Flagg said of eliminating the Learning Center.

Flagg also question why the facility was closing halfway through the year instead of at the end of the year, adding that her son will never see some of the friends he’s made at GA.

“Why even start the year then?” she said.

Another parent said her daughter who was a student at the GA home up until September was “heartbroken” to learn about the closing. One of Jonie Lasecki’s daughters who has Asperger’s benefited from the services of GA, which she said balanced teaching with counseling and other services.

“She learned how to go about other people and about her feelings,” Lasecki said of her daughter’s experience at GA.

The Learning Center hosted more than 60 youth, which serves as a school for students with learning and emotional disabilities as well as other health impairments related to behavioral needs. About half of enrolled students live directly at the Gustavus Avenue facility as part of the treatment center, which is designed to help these individuals learn social skills through a trauma-informed care approach.

“We’re there for them through thick and thin and we would’ve liked to think our employer would be there for us through thick and thin,” Gebhard said.

GA Family Services, located on Gustavus Avenue in Jamestown, announced in November that it had filed a 90-day closure plan with the New York State Office of Child and Family Services and state Education Department. The closure of the GA’s treatment and learning centers is expected to impact 100 employees who are considered “direct care and ancillary support positions.”

Holt said at the time of the announcement that the organization was becoming more focused on community-based programming and added that its elderly care was not going to be affected by the impending closure.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation being distributed to the community regarding the closure of the GA Residential Treatment Center and Learning Center,” Holt said in his response Friday. “From the very beginning, we have worked closely with referring agencies, local and state governing bodies, community partners, and area public schools to ensure that all GA students and youth in our residential program continue to receive the education, care, and support they need during this process.”

Advocating for the postponement of the impending closure of the Learning Center would have allowed for more time to organize the students transition and not impede the students’ education halfway through 2019-20, employees said.

“We have done our due diligence to vet these educational institutions as well as undergo regular monitoring by the State Education Department and Office of Child and Family Services,” Holt said. “No students are placed in an alternative educational setting without an approved placement plan through each district’s Committee on Special Education which is a legal requirement we take very seriously.”

Additionally, some Learning Center employees believe the formation of the union the same week of the announcement played a role in the closures. However, Lutheran officials at the time said the decision to close the centers was made months before a vote to create a union took place.

“This decision was not sudden or taken lightly; it has been in discussion for several years which has been documented and provided to the Union,” Holt reiterated Friday.

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