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LI training students pulled from training program

Parents and students gather in Medford in protest

Parents and students gather in Medford in protest of the district's decision to remove students from career training classes at Eastern Suffolk BOCES. (September 26, 2009) Credit: Newsday/Photo by Danielle Finkelstein

After passing an entrance exam and buying a white lab coat, 12th-grader Vienna LoGiudice of Medford assumed she would spend the rest of the school year training as a pharmacy technician at a regional BOCES center in Bellport.

But on Friday, the Patchogue-Medford school district pulled LoGiudice and seven classmates from the program run by the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Education, where they had spent the past three weeks.

Scores of other teens in the cash-strapped district also have discovered in recent months that their eligibility for BOCES occupational training has been restricted.

"We're trying to get good careers and further our lives, but they're taking it away from us," said LoGiudice, 16.

LoGiudice and her classmates may win a reprieve, however. Patchogue-Medford's school board has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday to review the BOCES issue, and four of seven board members told Newsday last week that they hope to return the teens to their job-training courses. Tuition for the eight would cost around $80,000 to $90,000.

"You can't just yank kids out of a program," said Michael Miles, a trustee and former board president.

Long Island's three regional BOCES provide training in fields such as carpentry to nursing. Most students spend half their day at a BOCES center and the other half in school.

Patchogue-Medford has struggled to pare costs in occupational training and other areas since 2006, when it was discovered that former administrators ran up $6.4 million in budget deficits.

Last spring, Patchogue-Medford's school board decided not to enroll any new students in BOCES career courses this year, but simply to allow those already enrolled in two-year programs to complete their work. The number of local teens enrolled in job training at Eastern Suffolk BOCES fell from 132 to 41.

The move saved the district an estimated $1 million, but the decision caused considerable confusion. Some Patchogue-Medford students, including LoGiudice, obtained permission from high school administrators to begin new BOCES courses this year because they had completed other BOCES programs last year.

But parents whose teens had not been allowed to enroll complained about the discrepancy, and board members also raised questions. In response, Superintendent Michael Mostow decided last week that his district could not pay the eight students' BOCES tuition.

Mostow did not have much time to take action because BOCES tuition charges cannot be canceled after Oct. 1, which is Thursday.

"The board made a decision and I'm carrying out their directive," Mostow said in a phone interview.

The removals shocked students, many of whom had rushed to complete high school academic courses by the end of 11th grade so they could concentrate on BOCES job training this year. Equally dismayed are parents who have spent hundreds of dollars on textbooks, lab uniforms and other items related to training.

"I've spent so much money . . . shoes alone were $75," said Cynthia Sproul of Medford, whose son, Michael, 17, was pulled from a course for licensed practical nursing.

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