Back to the drawing board: Darien’s Fitch Academy seeks new permanent home

The new home for Darien High School’s alternative education program, Fitch Academy, is once again under consideration after the previous plans fell through. But town and school officials are making that decision a priority.

According to Planning & Zoning officials, the discussions between the district and the owners of 1540 Boston Post Road, the previously P&Z approved location, could not come to an agreement.

The Fitch Academy program began at the Darien Library and is designed for students who are struggling with regularly attending classes at DHS, whether it be because of the environment in the building or other extenuating circumstance. The students are not particularly medically fragile, and Fitch is not necessarily a special education program. The goal is to provide an environment that allows this particular population of the student body a place to thrive.

The program at the library had 12 students ranging from freshmen to seniors and that number is expected to grow to a cap of 25 students next year, as there were students on the wait list.

According to late June emails exchanged between P&Z town director Jeremy Ginsberg and P&Z Commission Chairman John Sini, the new location being considered is Thorndal Circle, owned by the Nielsen Company.

Nielsen Company president Jerry Nielsen, a former town selectman, told The Darien Times though it is early in the discussions, “We’d love to have them.”

The change in plans means the new home for Fitch may not be in place by the start of school in the fall. According to the emails, district officials are making temporary arrangements in the meantime as the program had planned to leave the library facility at the end of the 2017-18 school year. 

Interim Schools Superintendent Dr. Elliott Landon told The Darien Times finalizing the location for Fitch is a priority. 

In his email exchange with Ginsberg, Sini agreed.

This shall get priority over all other items (assuming we don’t have deadlines to meet). If there is any way we can get the referral, application and deliberations on the July 17 agenda, please do it. If not, because of public notice issues, please use your discretion,” Sini said.

“I would even look to have a special meeting in the same week as another meeting in order to expedite this process. Once you get some clarity, please give the rest of the Commission a heads-up that this is an urgent issue that requires expedited attention,” Sini said.

The mandatory referral was given a positive review by the Planning & Zoning Commission’s agenda on Tuesday, July 17, with discussion and deliberation expected to happen at the commission’s July 24 meeting.

In early December the Board of Education unanimously voted to take the pilot status off of Fitch Academy and make it a regular program in Darien. While it could be possible that the program becomes available to students outside of Darien in the future, making it a revenue stream, it was decided that the program is not yet ready to make that leap.

Should a location for Fitch not be finalized by the start of school, the program will remain at the Darien Library temporarily according to Landon.

[email protected]