Autism program “nests” at IS 278

A long-coveted autism program will finally take flight at IS 278 — but parents fear the city hasn’t given up on its plans to put yet another school inside the beloved junior high.

The city approved the addition of the specialized “NEST” program for autistic students last week, delighting parents who have spent the last four years fending off the Department of Education’s attempts to bring a slew of unwanted schools and programs that will fill up vacant space at the school bounded by Stuart and Fillmore streets.

But a school educator who asked not to be named said the Department of Education’s letter announcing the program’s arrival came with the caveat that the city reserves the right to put additional schools or programs in the school as it sees fit.

“Another school could still move in,” the educator said, and that doesn’t sit well with parents.

“We’re always expecting the other shoe to drop,” said parent association member Madie Sheiken. “So we always have to proceed with caution.”

A call to the Department of Education for comment on that possibilitywas not returned by late Monday.

But for now, parents are happy the city finally bowed to their wishes.

During the last three years, the city has proposed putting in a grade school, a Hebrew Language Academy charter school, and a small high school into IS 278, but parents, teachers and civic leaders rallied against each plan — and for the autism program.

“This is a tremendous victory for the community and for parents with autistic children,” said Sheiken.

School stakeholders made a unified push for the autistic program, claiming that autistic students in the neighborhood have to travel Downtown or to Queens for specialized classes.

The “NEST” program is named after the central classroom — or nesting space — where autistic students go each morning before attending specialized classes.

“Marine Park has seen an increase of children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, so this is a perfect place to select this program,” Sheiken said.

Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Marine Park), who’s also pushed for the program, agreed.

“The dire need for this program, combined with the available space at the school, resulted in a win-win situation,” Fidler said. “It’s been a long and, at times, confrontational journey.”

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