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Northport's Special Ed Dept. Under Fire

Parents at the Northport BOE meeting take administration to task for slow response, poor handling of specific cases; NMS students circulate petition on behalf of Erika Josephson.

At the July 6 Northport-East Northport School District Board of Education meeting, parent Cathie Josephson explained the plight of her daughter Erika, an incoming ninth grade special education student.

After seven years in the district, Erika has done well thanks to support from teachers and classmates, Cathie said. But now the Josephson family has been told there is no place for Erika at Northport High School.

Although she is currently attending in-district summer camp, she will need to attend Western Suffolk BOCES in September.

To make matters worse, Josephson said that Erika’s belongings, including special equipment she needs on a daily basis, has already been packed up in bins, and the child was given a "filthy" adaptive toilet seat to use in her first week at camp.

Erika’s plight has touched her Northport Middle School classmates. Nearly 100 students have signed a petition, initiated by Catherine Drasdo and Kady Hogan which reads, in part: “For a school that ‘Never leaves anyone out,' they say they have no place for her in the high school. We think it is unfair, and we hope you feel the same way.  Erika is a wonderful girl and should be able to stay in the district with no conflict."

At Wednesday’s meeting, Director of Special Education Christina Pulaski defended her staff’s actions. She said she didn’t know who had packed up Erika’s belongings but that they were still easily accessible. As for the toilet seat, Pulaski said she had made sure one was available, but didn’t personally check it for cleanliness.

“No one checked the bathroom?” Josephson asked. “It’s the custodian’s fault?”

Pulaski said she didn’t think it was her responsibility to have checked it. In the end, Special Ed Chairperson Karrie Kruger and counselor Nicole Barbier-Adil cleaned the seat.

Josephson was not alone in her frustration. Carina Ranieri explained her difficulties – and ultimate failure – to enroll her son in the district’s summer golf camp which began June 27.

After being told two weeks before the camp started that the golf section was closed, Ranieri received a message on June 24, the last day of school, from Superintendent Marylou McDermott’s assistant saying that a new section had been opened.

Ranieri followed up on Monday with the camp office, only to be told there was no new section. Ten minutes later, another call came in from the camp office, saying Ranieri’s son could attend camp that very day, and that assistance would be provided for him. Since Ranieri had been told two weeks before that golf was closed, her son had other engagements, and was unable to attend.

McDermott said she had her assistant make the June 24 call because she had understood more students were interested in taking the camp. “My decision was to have all students participate," she said.

Ranieri’s letter, which is attached to this article, details unreturned phone calls to Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Terry Bouton, as well as a lack of email response from Christina Pulaski, Special Education Chairperson Allyson Giaimo, and McDermott. Bouton said she had gotten a message from Ranieri seeking to know which compliance office to contact, but that it was her understanding that Ranieri wasn’t expecting a phone call in return.

Parent Rachel Friedman, a former member of the executive Board of SEPTA wanted to know what the district’s policy was with regard to acknowledging receipt of an email or call.

A lack of response has come up in . Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Administration Matthew Nelson said the district is in the process of putting a new email system in place, but “there’s no way to guarantee that emails get there.” Ranieri wanted to know why her phone calls weren’t returned.

McDermott said she takes full responsibility, and said she and Pulaski would review the procedure in place for guaranteeing an aide in such situations. Board Vice President Donna McNaughton suggested that it be added to the procedure book that goes home to parents.

President Stephen Waldenburg suggested that the procedure for responding to emails also be reviewed so “parents don’t send messages into a void.”

Sandy July 13, 2011 at 08:38 PM
I believe written requests are to be answered in some way within 30 days. I would bring a letter to the office and have one of the secretaries sign for the receipt of it. That would give you that much more leverage with the NYS Ed. Dept.
Donna Prianti Lupia July 14, 2011 at 01:04 PM
I went to Northport but my children did not and have been out of the school system for years but what I have learned is that Special Ed is big business. School districts look forward to the funding from the state. This funding should be used as intended. There are many forms of child neglect in these programs. From pre screening right on up to the services provided or not provided. You have children being thrown into the system with a speech impediment that cannot get out and are never mainstreamed or if they are mainstreamed its at a time in their education where they never really "fit in" and the bullying they endure is unimaginable. There are those that need services but don't qualify because they score to high on the intelligence chart and fall through the cracks and never realize their full potential. In my opinion, the state needs to have a committee of inspectors that oversees these programs to ensure the needs of our children are met and that they are afforded every opportunity to develop, grow and learn to their fullest potential. Our children are our future. Did you know that Albert Einstein would have been classified as learning disabled by todays standards? I encourage you to read this. http://www.einsteinmontessori.com/ems.php?category=about_albert_einstein Our children deserve it. It is their right.
kathryne July 14, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Donna, I agree with you except for the part about a committee of inspectors, only because I think it would add another layer of bureaucracy and cost to a system that can ill afford either. What I would like to propose is that every teacher in the Northport/East Northport school district be trained in or hired as certified in Special Education. That the district provide them with training, strategies, and information on dealing with Behavior Management, Executive Function Disorders, and Cooperative Learning. Why? Well, as one of the best voices on learning disabilities and schools, Rick LaVoie, says "...accepting students with learning disabilities (or disabilities) into classrooms...makes teachers more creative...more responsive...kids more tolerant." He says "If you make school more accessible for students with special needs, you've made it accessible to everyone...We've learned more about language since we've discovered learning disabilities, in terms of how language develops, because the best way to study disease is to study sick people. The best way to study how language develops is to study people who don't develop language well...What we're finding is so many techniques we use for kids with language and learning disabilities work beautifully for the other sixty percent (of kids without disabilities)"
kathryne July 14, 2011 at 05:18 PM
Rick LaVoie also goes on to tell a story to illustrate his point and it reminds me of the Josephson's fight- "I tell an old New England story of this group of kids in front of an elementary school waiting to get in at the beginning of the day, eight o'clock in the morning, and they're standing in the parking lot waiting to get into the school. There had been a surprise snowstorm, so the custodian is out there shoveling off the steps so the kids can get in. This little boy in a wheel chair says, ‘Will you shovel off the ramp so I can get in?’ And the custodian says, ‘Well, wait a second, I've got to shovel off the steps for these kids and when I get done, I'll shovel off the ramp, but you have to wait.’ And, the little kid says, ‘But if you shovel off the ramp, we can all get in."
deborah cosher July 23, 2011 at 03:02 PM
I feel for the Josephson's plight. This should raise the consciousness of all parents in the district. There are many problems in the district that could easily be fixed with little or no expense. We have had a parent portal for years, which could be used for direct communication between teachers and parents. Yet it's only used to report the grades one day before they come in the mail. Why is it not being used as it is in other districts to post homework, assignments, reports and children's progress on a weekly basis. That is what it was designed for and being used successfully elsewhere. As for emails, the problem of them not being received has been a problem for years. I brought this up to the middle school three years ago. How does anyone survive today in this society without a reliable email service. The only explanation for not fixing such an important communication tool for parents and teachers must be that they don't care to fix it. Why? Why don't all teachers post on their homework assignments online? It would level the playing fields for students with ADD and executive function issues who often can miss information. The students and parents could make sure their children didn't miss anything. I was told three years ago that they can't force the teachers to do so. This would not cost any money and would even free up the need to contact teachers directly.

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