Staffing constraints have forced Howard S. Billings High School in Chateauguay to close an alternative learning program for students with difficulties.

Principal Collin Thomas issued a news release Monday on the school's Facebook page saying the Directions Alternative Program had become "too costly for the system" given the current reality.

The program supported 25 Grade 10 and 11 students at risk of dropping out and those with learning disabilities. Student Alex Meloche said the program has made learning much easier.

"I have anxiety disorders, I have depression. I can't deal with large settings. Ever since seventh grade, I've had a large struggle."

Catherine Higgins' child was in the program and is worried about the message the decision will send to students at risk.

 "These are kids who for whatever reason have such a low self-esteem that they don't feel worthy, and now they're being told by the school board, 'Yeah. You're right. You're not worthy,'" she said.

Parent Darla Williams said getting information on what the closing of the program will mean for their child has been difficult.

"I came to the school this morning ot speak to somebody but there's nobody here," she said. "I'm waiting to get information on what's going on. My daughter doesn't want to go back to the regular program."

In an interview with CJAD, Thomas said cuts to staff made keeping the program impossible.

"The timing's not great. One of the things we had hoped was we'd be able to get an increase in our staffing allocation from the school board but after Thursday's meeting we found out that was not a possibility," he said. "Unfortunately we did wait until the eleventh hour in the hopes we'd be able to offer the programming as we did in year's past but we found out late in the game that it definitely was not going to happen."

He added that students who were in the program would meet with student support services as school opens and resources would be made available.

"We're dealing with 15 students right now slated for Grade 11 and 10 slated for Grade 10. With the in-school resource structure we have in place we'll be able to maintain a very close eye on those kids," he said. 

The program employed three teachers and one special education technician, who will be redistributed, the school said.

"While the program provided an important support for a group of Grade 10 and 11 students, an era of re-sizing has forced us to focus on meeting the needs of as many students as possible," wrote Thomas.