Dozens of NYSUT members attended the union's 4201 Schools Conference last week hosted by the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens. Issues discussed included the need for increased funding for the schools, relevant upcoming legislation and the importance of mobilizing members and parents for lobbying.
NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino welcomed participants on behalf of the officers, and encouraged them to voice their concerns and suggestions. "I want to tell you how much we appreciate your time and attendance," said Fortina. "Any feedback you can provide, in terms of what you'd like to see moving forward, is welcomed."
Assembly members Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers, chair of the subcommittee on students with special needs, and Cathy Nolan, D-Queens, chair of the education committee, were also on hand for the event. They encouraged participants to invite legislators to their schools, get parents involved with lobbying and to write letters to lawmakers. "Don't be someone your lawmaker never hears from," said Mayer. "Get it into their heads that you are someone to be reckoned with."
Kyle McCauley Belokopitsky and Jacqueline Paredes, NYSUT legislation, discussed two bills that will be introduced during the 2015 legislative session. One would provide annual funding increases for 4201 schools, the second would open 4201 board meetings to the public, allowing greater transparency of school-wide decisions.
Other legislative plans include a 4201-focused social media campaign, boosting legislative school visits over the coming year and working with the New York State Education Department to reduce decibel-level requirements for admission, which would allow more hearing-impaired students to attend 4201 schools.
Peter Applebee, NYSUT research, highlighted the 4201 funding mechanism and detailed a NYSUT-defeated proposal that would have allowed schools to petition for waivers from special education requirements - a move that could have jeopardized necessary protections for students with disabilities. He also discussed the Smart Schools Bond Act, which will provide state-funded education technology if passed this fall.
Kristan Connolly, NYSUT program services, discussed her role as a conduit between NYSUT and the 4201 locals to ensure their concerns are heard.
NYSUT represents members at seven of New York state's 11 private, state-supported 4201 schools, which educate students who are deaf, blind and/or physically disabled.