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Staff Writer

TOWNSEND — In planning the consolidation of North Middlesex Regional School District with the closure next year of Townsend’s Squannacook Elementary School and Pepperell’s Peter Fitzpatrick School, some students’ needs may have been overlooked.

That’s the opinion of a small group of parents among those of the 50 Ashby youngsters who will remain schooled in that small town setting while other fifth and sixth graders are bused to middle school environments in Townsend’s Hawthorne Brook and Pepperell’s Nissitissit Schools.

Ashby resident and Pepperell Varnum Brook Elementary School teacher Ann Marie MacDonald on Monday night expressed the parents’ concerns to the District School Committee.

She sought a collaborative public forum combining parents, Hawthorne Brook and Ashby Elementary administrators and possibly a School Committee member to hear and ask questions about the potential impact of the decision on younger students’ educational experience.

MacDonald, the mother of a fourth, a fifth and a seventh grader, told the committee that while the Ashby Elementary School has been a “great service,” leaving upcoming fifth and sixth grade classes in that town while others attend a middle school setting amounts to unequal education.

Although the same curriculum is studied in all schools, Ashby’s setting doesn’t provide the opportunity provided by the two larger schools, with their greater number of teachers “working together and sharing ideas and programs,” she said.

Ashby’s 50 elementary students might not see the same extracurricular programs or enjoy the wider variety of activities offered to the 150-plus students in Townsend and Pepperell.

The Ashby students will also be one year behind the socialization inherent in the middle school climate, creating an unequal transitioning period when they and just a few classmates enter sixth or seventh grade at Hawthorne Brook, MacDonald contends.

“My concern when changes are being made is where was the Ashby (School Committee) representative? Who dropped the ball? Why wasn’t Ashby taken into the equation?” she said after the meeting.

“There’s still a question of, do we (Ashby parents) have input?” agreed Ashby mother Betsy Raymond.

“If I hadn’t (spoken) to the committee tonight, there’s nothing out there until the April 6 School Committee meeting. So many Ashby parents are saying ‘Why should we worry?’ That’s not true,” MacDonald said.

School Committee Chairman Arnold Silva assured MacDonald there has been no “firm” decision made about Ashby fifth and sixth graders and that there have been several open forums over the past few weeks.

Superintendent Maureen Marshall said she’d be happy to hold a forum for Ashby parents.

“Other parents also have issues. We understand the questions about where they’ll all be educated,” Marshall assured MacDonald.

Townsend committee member Frederick Wheeler thanked MacDonald for her statements, noting they “make School Committee members more aware of the importance of what we do.”

No firm date for the Ashby forum has yet been set.