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New London — Beginning later this fall, Harbor School on Montauk Avenue will house a program for students in grades six through 12 who have emotional disabilities, Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer announced Thursday.
The program, run by High Road Schools, will serve students from New London and surrounding districts, Fischer said.
"Our notion is to have our own students there, plus to bring in students from out of district, which will help us cover the costs," Fischer told the Board of Education's School Facilities & Program Design Committee on Thursday.
Between 20 and 25 students who are part of the High Road program at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, as well as about 25 students from other districts including Groton and Norwich, will move to Harbor School as soon as renovations to the more-than-100-year-old building are completed, Fischer said.
"We are in the midst of working with High Road to start working on necessary renovations in the building," he said.
Those renovations will be paid for by the High Road program and are expected to be completed by November, Fischer said. Harbor School has been vacant since June 30, he said.
Fischer said he has been talking to the school board about using Harbor School for such a program for "six or seven months" and the move does not require approval from the board.
In his report to the State Board of Education earlier this month, special master Steven Adamowski wrote that the school district spends about $6.8 million annually in out-of-district placement. Most of that cost is for tuition and transportation for students with special needs who attend other schools, he wrote.
Adamowski noted in the report a pressing need for the district to "develop and house high quality programs for many special education students who are currently outplaced."
According to Fischer, Adamowski told the city the school district could consider a different location to house the program, "but it would mean that the city would have to pay for that facility," Fischer said. "The city will not have to spend anything on this building."
Further down the road, Fischer said, the district hopes to use Harbor School as a student services center, where it could provide services for students with autism or for those who have been expelled from another school.
"This is a great opportunity for us to bring students closer to home, but obviously there are real financial benefits as well," Fischer said Thursday evening. "Our goal is to offer the best possible services to our students in the most financially responsible way."