By Emma Crawford Kent
TUPELO – Students who attend the McDougal Center will move to classrooms on school campuses starting next school year as the center will close its doors after more than 40 years in Tupelo.
The school, which serves students with disabilities, once served multiple school districts across Northeast Mississippi, but Lee County and Tupelo Schools were the only districts left still sending students to the school in recent years.
The center, which is located in Tupelo near the Tupelo campuses of ICC and Ole Miss, is home to two classrooms where students from Lee County and Tupelo Schools attended school.
Special education teachers from both school districts taught at the center and will move with their students back to school buildings in their home districts.
Diana Ezell, assistant superintendent for TPSD, said the school districts plan to keep the teachers with their group of students and the students will be relocated to school buildings according to their age groups.
Lee County and Tupelo Schools special education departments and administrative leaders made the decision together to move students from the McDougal Center onto school campuses citing a decline in participation from schools outside of Lee County.
When McDougal Center Director Jan Harris announced recently she planned on retiring, Ezell said Tupelo and Lee County leaders took the opportunity to evaluate whether the program needed to be restructured and what their next steps would be.
Ezell said the districts decided they could serve the students, and with only a few classes at the McDougal Center, they decided closing that facility was best.
“There are advantages to putting them in their home schools,” Ezell said. “That way they’ll be able to get music, PE and art, things like that.”
LifeCore Health Group, TPSD and Lee County Schools released a statement Friday afternoon citing a decline in participation from schools outside of Lee County as the reason for the center’s closing.
The McDougal Center served nine counties at one point. But over the years, districts have opted instead to keep those students on campus instead.
According to the press release, the school districts and LifeCore “realize how difficult this transition will be for everyone involved. LifeCore, Lee County Schools and Tupelo Public Schools will continue to work cooperatively as we transition students to their home districts. As we progress, our goal in these new settings will be to enhance the quality of services our students receive.”