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Long Island school for disabled students having to deal with busing issues

Angelo Zegarelli is head of school at the

Angelo Zegarelli is head of school at the Henry Viscardi Center in Albertson, and a former teacher there. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A hundred students with severe physical disabilities face loss of bus transportation during their first scheduled weeks of classes at a nationally-recognized, state-funded school on Long Island, administrators said.

Officials at the 180-student Henry Viscardi Center for the disabled in Albertson, which is scheduled to open Thursday, said most students probably would miss classes until Sept. 13 at least, unless a way can be found to provide funding for buses. The Viscardi school, which serves families throughout the metro region, has gained widespread praise for its specialized work with students who mostly use motorized wheelchairs.

The students affected live in New York City's five boroughs. Other Viscardi students, included 75 from the Nassau-Suffolk region, will not lose bus rides, because costs are covered by their local districts.

The transportation problem emerged Aug. 25, school officials said, when New York City authorities announced that "due to contractual and operational constraints," busing would not be provided until Sept. 13, when the city's public schools start classes. City authorities added that families arranging private transportation could be reimbursed, but Viscardi administrators said private vehicles would not be practical in most cases, due to the severity of students' disabilities.

Viscardi administrators voiced outrage over the situation, contending the city was not living up to legal obligations to provide rides.

"They're leaving our parents with no way to receive educations and related services for their children, robbing children of their first day of school," said Angelo Zegarelli who is Viscardi's head of school and a former teacher there. "I'm not even confident this will be fixed by the 13th. It's frustrating."

Viscardi students are not the only ones affected.

Representatives of other independent schools in New York City serving students who are blind, deaf or otherwise disabled said that their students, too, cannot obtain busing until Sept. 13. The group, known collectively as 4201 schools, are state funded but privately operated.

"Any delay will be detrimental to their education," said Bernadette Kappen, chairwoman of an association representing 4201 schools. Kappen also is executive director of the New York Institute for Special Education, located in the Bronx.

In response, New York City school officials on Wednesday repeated statements issued in the past that they would reimburse parents for using private transporation. Those officials added that reimbursible costs included the employment of a guardian, nurse or other employee, if needed to accompany a student, as well as special vehicles required to accomodate students' needs.

Association officials provided Newsday with email messages attributed to a pupil-transportation administrator for New York City's Board of Education. One message, dated Aug. 25, stated, "I am sorry, but in accordance with the chancellor's announcement last week — busing is not available for any school in or out of the city from 9/1 through 9/10. Transportation reimbursement options are available including prefunded car service."

The Viscardi school, founded in 1962, serves students in grades K-12 who need medical treatment during the day resulting from a variety of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and traumatic brain injury. In 2014, the center's president and chief executive, John Kemp, won the Dole Leadership Prize, a national award given annually to an individual or group whose public service inspires others.

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