A Rego Park school for children with special needs closes on Friday and many of the disabled students of the year-round school have nowhere to go, family members told The Courier.
Life-Skills School, which served students with mental and secondary emotional challenges ages 9 through 21, was the only school of its kind in Queens.
Its closure leave a vulnerable population without a local specialized school to go to.
“I have no real options for my brother right now,” Theresa Michie, whose brother Randy attended Life-Skills, said. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Parents and guardians of about 43 students received a notice from the school saying it was closing in 90 days, as required by the state, but many say they were not given enough time to make other arrangements.
While some parents have already found schools for their children, many children have yet to be placed.
“No one knew until late May that this was going to happen,” said Peg Rasmussen, whose daughter Gabriella goes to the school. “It was cruel to wait so long to tell us.”
Rasmussen was one of the lucky ones. She said she was able to place her daughter in an appropriate school with the assistance of state Sen. Joe Addabbo’s office.
“I was very fortunate to be able to help Mrs. Rasmussen and her daughter,” state Sen. Addabbo said, “but there are still children that need the proper assistance.
Barbara Hendricks, director of the Life-Skills board of trustees, said she only gave the allotted amount of time because she was trying to look for other options and because if she had told families earlier, she would have had “pure chaos on [her] hands.”
“The school was running on a deficit for years now,” Hendricks said. “We wouldn’t have been able to fund the programs our students need this year. I did not want to do this. It was a very difficult decision.”
Life-Skills is a nonprofit private school that is publicly funded by New York State. With salaries, high rent prices and the lack of enrollment, the school did not have enough money and now must shut its doors, according to Hendricks.
When the closure notices went out, each child was paired with case worker to help with the placement process. The options for many parents depended on the classification of disabilities their children have. Some children were placed in private specialized schools in Queens, but others were given the option of going out of the borough or to District 75 public schools, such as Randy was offered.
But some children, like Randy, who go to Life-Skills have been let down by public schooling already, which makes his sister reluctant to put him back in the system.
“I took him out of public school already because it was not working for him,” said Michie, who lives in Astoria. “Now, the only school like Life-Skills that is currently willing to take him is in Westchester. I can’t send him there.”
There were many days that Michie had to rush over to Life-Skills because of situations involving her brother.
She said if she sends Randy to Westchester and a problem arose it would take her over an hour to get there, which is too long for her to feel safe.
Hendricks said that 95 percent of the displaced children have been offered slots in private schools “all over” the city and surrounding counties, but 13 families had yet to accept the outplacement. She added that she frequently follows up with the Department of Education and that they are working closely with all students to place them in schools that work for them.
For now, guardians and parents who do not like the options they were given will have to keep looking for viable schools. Michie said it is very difficult to find a school close enough for a child with multiple disabilities, like her brother Randy.
“We just have to hope that we can find a place to send Randy,” Michie, who cancelled a trip to Florida just in case she has to meet with a school, said. “[Since she got the letter] It’s been a headache every day.”
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