March 24, 2011

4201 educators fight for their students, schools

Author: Bernie Mulligan
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Teacher Donna Ayer, holding sign, is among the hundreds of parents, students and educators rallying in Albany to protest proposed cuts in state funding for 4201 schools. Photo by Katherine Van Acker.

The threat of cuts to schools that serve students who are deaf, blind or disabled brought hundreds of NYSUT educators, parents, students and supporters to a recent 4201 schools rally in Albany.

The show of support has pushed some state decision-makers in a better direction. Both the state Assembly and Senate have rejected the governor's proposal to cut $98 million from 4201 schools and shift costs to already cash-strapped school districts. Lawmakers have expressed support for the current funding model, which would enable the schools to continue their vital work.

The 4201 schools, so named for a section of state education law, are private, state-supported schools. NYSUT members work in seven of the 11 schools: the Henry Viscardi School in Nassau County, St. Mary's School for the Deaf in Buffalo, the Rochester School for the Deaf, the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf in Nassau County, the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, the Lavelle School for the Blind in the Bronx and the New York School for the Deaf in White Plains.

"Our state is world-famous for the quality of education our members provide these students," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, who is leading the union's advocacy on their behalf. "The students, their families and our members deserve better than cuts to their highly successful programs."

The rally was packed with educators who have committed their life's work to their students.

"Because we begin with students at the primary level, and go with them through high school, it's like we are a second home and second family for them," said Mary Diyanni, vice president of the Fanwood Teachers Association and a 40-year teacher at the New York School for the Deaf.

"We have the people and resources to do the job best," said 31-year teacher and Fanwood TA President Neil Davino. "We give them the full range of services they need and deserve."

Kaleeb Moran, a senior at the New York School for the Deaf, is proof that 4201 schools are the best option for students with special needs. Moran has received an academic scholarship to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology.

"My teachers know how to teach deaf students so we can grow and improve," Moran said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by parents Karen and Donal Coll, whose 6-year-old son is in kindergarten at the Mill Neck Manor School.

"The teachers there know how to teach these children," said Karen Coll. "It would be a travesty to deny my son his rights to an appropriate educational setting."

The parents' enthusiasm for the schools was matched by a parade of legislators who came to the rally to express their support. Westchester Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti drew cheers when he said, "We should not be concerned about the finances of millionaires, we should be concerned about the future of our kids."