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Long IslandNassau

Parents shocked by special needs program's shuttering

Julia Delfino of Hicksville holds two of her

Julia Delfino of Hicksville holds two of her children, Jessica, 5, and Phillip, 3 1/2, outside the Dutch Lane Elementary School. (June 25, 2010) Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

A preschool program for Nassau County children with special needs that was run in a Hicksville school was essentially shuttered last week after 21 years in operation - and parents said last Friday they were never told.

The school for children ages 3 and 4, which was run by the Hicksville school district at Dutch Lane Elementary School, is funded by the county Department of Health's Office of Children with Special Needs.

School district officials said in a written statement Friday that the program has become too expensive to run and it is being phased out.

"For the past year, the tuition reimbursement rate has been frozen by New York State. Unfortunately, the reimbursements for this program no longer sustain the rising costs," read a statement from the school district released Friday.

Julia Delfino, a parent from Hicksville who has two children who graduated from the program, said she learned Thursday on the last day of school - by word-of-mouth - that the program was closing. There were five teachers, with 12 students each per classroom, she said.

"I don't see how there is not a way to keep this program afloat," she said. "I can't believe how this was handled."

Nassau County simply serves as a pass-through for state funds, and the county has paid $1.7 million for the program so far this year, county officials said, with further claims expected.

Michael Martino, a spokesman for County Executive Edward Mangano, said: "Although New York State froze funding for these services, the decision to cut the program is solely decided by individual school districts. Despite the state and school district cuts, the county will make every effort to ensure these children receive the appropriate services."

School officials said in a statement that "while the district would have liked to inform the parents sooner, we informed the parents as soon as we were able."

Tracy Santos, who has a 4-year-old child in the program, said it focused on speech and language and offered physical and occupational therapy. It ran five days a week for two hours a day.

"I am afraid for all children. The children have come so far," Santos said.

Tom Rogers, district superintendent of Nassau BOCES, which runs two programs for preschoolers with special needs, said Friday that BOCES "is going to do everything we can to try and accommodate their kids if it is possible."

District officials said in a statement they will phase out the program starting in September, with only a limited number of classes available for 4-year-olds.

"The taxpayers of the Hicksville school district cannot, however, be expected to bear the burden of the cost for this program for children residing outside of Hicksville in school districts throughout Nassau County," read the statement.


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