Northwest Center Kids is being evicted from the Queen Anne location they've been leasing from Seattle Public Schools (SPS) for 28 years, as SPS scrambles to find space for their growing student population. The space currently utilized by the Northwest Center will be given to the Cascade Parent Partnership Program, a public education hybrid program that supports parents who homeschool their children. Northwest Center parents and administrators are shocked, and worried that they will not be able to find suitable space to fit the needs of the students.
I tried to reach Superintendent Banda, but he forwarded my calls to Teresa Wippel, the media relations manager for Seattle Public Schools, who explained that the school board voted on this decision to relocate the Northwest Center in late November. Mr. Everill and the parents I spoke to said that they did not hear about this decision until late December. Mr. Everill also sent emails to Superintendent Banda as early as October 2012 asking to be included in any conversations about relocation, but the school board moved forward with their decision without contacting him.
More problematic is that this decision comes after the Northwest Center, having received a $250,000 grant from commercial real estate development association NAIOP, refurbished the building specifically for the needs of the developmentally disabled students currently using it. Seattle Public Schools has claimed that they did not plan on taking over the building, but public records show that they have been discussing this takeover for more than a year, and even specifically referenced the benefit of using the school after the Northwest Center moved so that they would have fewer repairs to do when they took over.
The school, which specializes in creating inclusive learning programs for students of all abilities ages 6 weeks to 12 years, has created a strong community for the parents and students who are often left with nowhere else to turn for educational options. Tom Everill, President and CEO of the Northwest Center, told me that 40% of the kids at the Northwest Center pre-school program have developmental challenges and learning delays, along with the physical and mental disabilities that often come with them, ranging from tube feedings, heart disease, specific medications, asthma, and behavioral issues. Due to the behavioral issues the students sometimes face, many of them are expelled from pre-school programs, and the Northwest Center is often the only place these students can go. Seattle Public Schools doesn't generally handle the age range that the Northwest Center is working with, so there are little to no options for relocating the students to other schools.
Parents and administrators from the Northwest Center have expressed that they are willing to relocate but they need more time, and want to keep the focus on what is best for their kids. SPS has proposed a move to Van Asselt, but the Northwest Center is uncertain that they will be able to receive the licensing requirements necessary to outfit the school for pre-school aged students with developmental disabilities. There is also no formal contract indicating that they will in fact be moving to Van Asselt.
Lots of Northwest parents will be at the school board meeting this afternoon, and I'll have more information as this story develops.
UPDATE: Teresa Wippel, the communications manager for Seattle Public Schools, contacted me today to tell me that the school board did not vote on the decision to move the Northwest Center. Flip Herndon, the Assistant Superintendent of Capital, Facilities and Enrollment Planning made the decision to move the Northwest Center to a different location.