Beach council approves private school

Posted on Friday, August 31, 2012 at 4:00 am

KATHLEEN FITZSIMMONS

A conditional use permit has been granted in Colonial Beach for the operation of a private school for children with special needs. The Gateway Private School, which will be operated by Dr. Kathleen Fitzsimmons was approved by the Colonial Beach Town Council with the condition that Fitzsimmons would not make a future request for the school to become a charter school and divert funding from the public school system.

Funding was the reason for this amendment, as well as the reason for the majority of the questions put forward by the council and Dr. Donna Power, superintendent of Colonial Beach Public Schools (CBPS). The anticipated funding for CBPS has already been lowered for the 2012-2013 school year due to an anticipated lower Annual Daily Membership (ADM) than expected.

According to Fitzsimmons the funding for Gateway school will come from Family Assessment and Planning Team (FAPT) funds. FAPT funding is a combination of funds that are used to help high risk youth. These funds are used for educational programs, in and out of their home schools, as well as at home programs.

Students who have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that requires services that the individual school cannot meet may be eligible to be educated at Gateway. For a student to be sent to Gateway it must be the least restrictive environment that meets that particular student’s individual needs. Students remain as members of their home school system, and their attendance still counts toward the ADM of the public school.

If CBPS decides a student would be better served by attending Gateway they would then direct the student to them. Parents cannot self refer their child to Gateway.

Power backed the opening of Gateway, with two conditions: that GPS not try to change and operate as a charter school, as much funding for a charter school comes from the local school. The other condition was that all students at the charter school be required to take all state Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments as required by Virginia law.

Power explained the special education system to the council as consisting of three levels. Level one consists of local Special Education teachers who teach students in the general education system The second level is the Northern Neck Special Education (NNSE) program which is a five area system for students needing more help. The third level consists of  regional special education program that takes students who need even further help that cannot be met by their home school or the NNSE program.

Fitzsimmons has helped to operate day school and residential programs in the Fredericksburg area for special needs students. Gateway Private School is purchasing the former Westmoreland Baptist Church property which is located at 204 Garfield Ave. The school has plans to host up to 30 students with a teaching staff of eight members.

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