Educators at NYSUT's 4201 Schools Conference, hosted by the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, called on the union to ramp up the fight for increased funding for the schools, which educate students who are deaf, blind and/or physically disabled.
"Because students require more support services — such as occupational therapy, physical therapy and counseling — many children are denied entrance to our schools because we don't have the funding to provide the services they need," said Carolyn Phillips, a math teacher and member of the Henry Viscardi School Faculty Association.
The Nassau County school educates students with severe physical disabilities.
NYSUT represents members at eight of the state's 11 private, state-supported 4201 Schools, so named for the provision of the Education Law where the schools are listed.
State funding for 4201 Schools has been flat for the past four years, and cut in the three years before that.
"We've had no salary or step increases and we're losing experienced teachers," said Scott Tarr, president of the Lexington School Teachers Association.
NYSUT is pushing two state bills. One would provide annual funding increases for 4201 Schools; the other would make the schools' board meetings public, helping members stay abreast of schoolwide decisions. 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, encouraged the educators to write letters and invite lawmakers to their schools.
Diane Gonzalez, president of the TA of St. Mary's School for the Deaf in Buffalo, said 4201 Schools are the least restrictive environment for their students. Since everyone signs, students have direct access to language, allowing them to receive information via their chosen communication domain.
"Our school also offers important social opportunities for students — they have a normal school experience," she said.
Dawn Barratta, a physical therapist at the Henry Viscardi school, agrees. "They may not get that at a mainstream school," she said.
NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino thanked participants at the June event for the comments: "Any feedback you can provide is welcomed."