Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kirby's graduation, and more HDLS news

With the University of Houston's Human Development Lab School closing in seven weeks, and the number of students enrolled there steadily dwindling as parents seek alternative arrangements for their children, the school decided to hold its "graduation ceremony" a few weeks early. Here's a grimacing Kirby, in cap and gown and diploma "for successful completion of preschool" in hand:
Meanwhile, earlier this week the Houston Press Hair Balls blog had a follow-up entry on the controversy surrounding the HDLS closure. This blog details the inept and ham-fisted manner in which the administration of the University of Houston College of Education handled the closure, as well as its effect on parents and students:
Back in December, College of Education Dean Robert Wimpleberg and Associate Dean Jacqueline Hawkins sent Lab school parents a letter basically stating that the school was staying the course and looking for ways to improve.

Despite that reassuring missive, rumors started flying mid-semester that Hawkins was concocting a plan to close the school. Those plans were made public on May 11. The school is to be shuttered on July 31, leaving parents -- some with special needs children -- to scramble for the last full month of the summer and the eternity to follow.

Lab School parent Dr. Liz Chiao, an HIV researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine, curses their timing. "They should have let us know in December that they were closing, because then we could have looked at other schools," she says. "Instead, we got this crazy letter that said 'We want to bring this school up to the best standards blah-blah-blah.' Just bizarre."

Heidi Hofer, a UH assistant professor of optometry, is the mother of an autistic daughter who is attending the Lab School. The closure is hitting her much harder than most parents. "These problems are exacerbated for me because my child has bona-fide special needs and no alternative program will accept a child for a period of only one month," she wrote in a letter to UH President Renu Khator. "What am I suppose to do with my child during this time period, bring her to the lab with me?" Hofer also is deeply concerned with the psychological impact of not one but two new schools will have on her transition-averse daughter, and there are several other Lab School parents the same boat.

Last week Dean Wimpleberg sent Lab School parents an email notifying them a meeting was being organized to help them find alternative schools for their children.

Chiao fired back saying that these efforts, while appreciated, were much too late. What's more, she wrote, the school demonstrated a callous disregard for both the kids and their parents. "A decision that affects this many families and children, especially those children with special needs, should not have been executed as a standard business procedure, with the consequences for families as an afterthought," wrote Chiao.

Dr. Audra Timmins, a Baylor College of Medicine Ob/Gyn, agreed in a subsequent email. "The way this was handled would be akin to telling a woman after a radical mastectomy what her options for breast cancer treatment were," she wrote.

Wimpleberg had also furnished the parents with a list of alternatives the parents could pursue, which inspired a blast of sarcastic fury from Lab School parent Lori "The Wine Woman" Gray:
"I must just say 'WOW!' What wonderful help you have been in our time of crisis that you created for us. It was 3 weeks ago that you told us the school would be closing and you are just now getting around to 'scheduling' a meeting with Collaboratives for Children for us...???.... Are you serious when we are T-minus 8 weeks? Also, thanks for the list of 'daycare' centers we can contact. Looked similiar to the phone book."
"The Wine Woman" is, of course, my wife. And she and I are still trying to figure out where Kirby will go to school come August.

The University of Houston strives to be a "Tier One" institution. However, as long as embarrassingly incompetent administrators like College of Education Dean Robert Wimpleberg and Associate Dean Jacqueline Hawkins are allowed to remain in charge and make thoughtless and amateurish decisions such as this, negative stereotypes about "Cougar High" will continue to be reinforced.

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