Thursday, December 18, 2008

NYC preschool for disabled children won't close until 2010

From The New York Times Dec. 17:

Brooklyn Heights Montessori School announced Dec. 17 that it would continue to operate the Little Room, a well-regarded preschool for children with special needs, until August 2010 to allow all of the current students to finish the two-year program.

The decision by the school’s 23-member board of trustees came after more than a week of contentious exchanges between school officials and parents who have fought to keep the program from closing as early as next summer. School officials said they
would use the additional time to try to find another home for the Little Room.

“The board wanted to make sure it was doing the right thing for the school and the program,” said Dane L. Peters, the head of the school.

The future of the state-financed special education program had been in question in recent weeks after Brooklyn Heights Montessori, a private elementary and middle school, informed parents that it could no longer keep the Little Room at its red-brick complex at Court and Bergen Streets. The program, which like others for preschoolers with special needs is free to those who qualify, was started by the school in 1970.

Mr. Peters said the Little Room did not fit in with the school’s future plans, and required a subsidy of more than $100,000 a year to make up the difference between the program’s expenses and about $1.2 million in annual reimbursements from the state.

Mr. Peters said the school planned to keep in place the entire staff next year.

He also said he would hire a new director to replace Sonia Nachuk, who left Friday for another job.

Brooklyn Heights Montessori plans to form a transition task force of trustees, faculty and parents to explore future options for the program, like being taken over by another school or special education program. Mr. Peters said the school would continue to subsidize the Little Room while also trying to get state education officials to increase its reimbursements.

Little Room parents expressed relief at the reprieve but said they remained concerned about finding a new location quickly; a statement by the board said it needed to identify a new potential home by Nov. 15, 2009, or start preparing to close the program.