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Little time left for ‘Little Room’

The Brooklyn Paper
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A prominent special education program in Cobble Hill was all but snuffed out this week after yearlong relocation talks with the state collapsed.

The “Little Room,” a special-ed program within the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, will be forced to close after its three-dozen 3- and 4-year-olds graduate in August as a result of the latest failure to find a new home and sponsor — and parents are blaming the school.

“It’s really sad because every child benefitted from this program,” said Tamika Rodriguez, whose 4-year-old son, Judah, will graduate at the end of the school year. “They need to find a way, any way, to replicate the ‘Little Room’ somewhere else, or I can’t see where [special-ed] parents will turn.”

The troubles all started late in 2008 when Montessori School officials decided that its regular school program and its Little Room program could no longer fit under the Bergen Street roof. Those officials assigned a task force of parents and staff to find a new home for the program — which is currently state-funded and free — by December, 2009. But complications among the program’s would-be host, future director and the state Department of Education hindered the effort.

Montessori Head of School Dane Peters declined to talk about the problem, referring a Brooklyn Paper reporter to the school’s outside spokeswoman, Lupe Todd, who said, “I do understand what these parents are going through, but this isn’t about money, or even space. It’s about two schools growing under one roof — two schools that need to be separate.”

Todd’s comments are in direct contradiction with the Montessori School’s earlier position. Just over a year ago, Montessori officials said that the Little Room was too costly because state reimbursement rates don’t fully cover the expense of such a fine program.

Many parents say that the failure to find a new sponsor is the Montessori school’s fault. Matilda Garrido, whose son is a Little Room graduate, said parents found out about Montessori’s discontinuation of the Little Room program by accident, through a vague letter sent out by the school in 2008.

Later, the task force found a promising sponsor, the YAI Network — a special-education advocacy program — but school officials told parents they already had a different sponsor, Garrido said.

“We were led down a garden path that wasn’t a reality,” she said. “Their sponsor was never good to go. When [that sponsor] publicly backed out, [Montessori] gave YAI two months to find a space for these children.”

Todd said YAI wouldn’t promise to take immediate financial responsibility of the program, a state requirement. Garrido and other parents disagree, saying that YAI is still interested but needs more time to find a location.

YAI representatives refused to comment. In the meantime, some parents and elected officials, including state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn Heights), Councilmen Brad Lander (D-Park Slope) and Steve Levin (D–Williamsbu­rg) and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D-Carroll Gardens), are rallying behind the program in a last-ditch effort to keep it going.

“We’re still in communication with [the school] and the state,” said Squadron, who urged state officials to waive the financial responsibility requirements in this one case. “We’re trying.”

Squadron and parents sent Montessori officials a formal letter last week requesting more time to find a space for the Little Room program.

Updated 5:16 pm, July 9, 2018: Updated with more context and background.
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Reasonable discourse

LR parent from brooklyn heights says:
Mr. Campbell -

It's unfortunate that you chose only to present the BHMS version of events. YAI was only brought into the mix in late October after The League, the partner BHMS prematurely announced was taking over the program, dropped out - because The League never actually planned to preserve the program.

BHMS wanted YAI to agree to spend $1 million for a new space with no guarantee the state would approve the transfer - it's hard to see why one would fault YAI for not taking such a risk.

The ability to save the program lies solely in the hands of Dane Peters and Helene Banks.

I'd urge you to read the NY Times story, which was far more thorough and accurate.


Jan. 29, 2010, 8:35 am
Matilda Garrido from Brooklyn Heights says:
I'm very surprised you would not have tried to get a quote from a Little Room parent or staff member to hear how we are experiencing these events. Is this balanced journalism?
Jan. 29, 2010, 9:27 am
Neighbor from brooklyn heights says:
BHMS: if "this isn’t about money, or even space", why do the two schools that need to be separate?-- could it be that you are uncomfortable with special neeeds kids in your school? I think you should read your own website and decide if you are fufilling your own mission! shame shame shame
Jan. 29, 2010, 9:35 am
Collective consciousness from Cobble Hill says:
Mr Campbell:
If you have any journalistic aspirations I encourage you to use the power of the press to uncover what's really happening. It will take some sleuthing. Some digging. Asking some tough questions.

I'm sure you're familiar with FOIA and the requirements for non-profit organizations to make public their financial records.

Why is BHMS so eager to be rid of The Little Room? Why have they not filed the proper paperwork with the state for several years? Why hasn't BHMS kept separate books for a program they claim is completely separate from their mainstream program? Why can't BHMS show how state taxpayer's money was used over the course of the last 7 years? Why did the Board of Trustees of BHMS vote to evict the Little Room with very little real effort to find a way for it to survive -- without ever touring the program which resides in its own building, to see what they do or what kinds of children they serve? You don't suppose they may be worried that if the Little Room survives, so shall these financial questions?

I understand The Brooklyn Paper is not hard edge journalism, but you do serve a community that deserves answers to the above questions.
Jan. 29, 2010, 10:40 am
LR Parent from Park Slope says:
The LR serves not only 28 children in a given school year (for over 40 years) but in combination with the children they serve (some of them BHMS gen ed students)with related services (OT / PT / Speech) in this facility. If you saw the physical space, you could not comprehend the benefit to the Special Needs world this program has made in such a small space. This program does deserve a host that wants them to grown and thrive when there is such an incredible need in the community.

As the parent of one of the current students, who also has outside services to fullfill, the loss to the community of the related services is irreplaceable in Brooklyn.

For you to not represent the LR families & LR staffs' side of the situation is truly unfair and sloppy journalism. As parents we want and must demand that our children be given every opportunity to develop and achieve there true potential. Little Room excells at that mission!
Jan. 29, 2010, 11:29 am
BHMS, you contradict yourselves from Park Slope says:
In Brooklyn Paper’s Dec. 2008 story about little room being told to leave, BHMS gave this reason: "Administrators also said that the special ed program is a financial drain, because state reimbursement rates don’t fully cover the costs of the Montessori School’s approach to the program."

Now they say it is not about money after all: "... this isn’t about money, or even space. It’s about two schools growing under one roof — two schools that need to be separate."

BHMS, make up your mind. Is it money or not? Oh yeah, you have dropped the "financial drain" line, since it has come out that it is you, BHMS, who failed for years to file the proper papers with the state in order to get the higher rate that you should have been receiving.

Now all you are left with is "it's about two growing schools...that need to be separate." Okay, but what's the hurry to separate them? Is BHMS gonna get the cooties if little rm stays one, measly year? Answer that question, we all really want to know.

Leave a comment and answer it, Lupe Todd:
If it is not about money or space, then what is this great, big hurry all about?

That, folks, is the great mystery that no one is able to solve.

Let’s also remember that these 2 schools did not “need to be separate” when it came to little room helping BHMS get NYSAIS accreditation. But now, and with great urgency they do.

Here is some advice for next time you get into a situation where you need to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, BHMS: pick a story and stick to it!
Jan. 29, 2010, 9:27 pm
Anonymous from Brooklyn Heights says:
Please see the NY Times article on this subject. This is about money. This is about space. And it is about closing a program that is badly needed. "Two growing programs that need to separate is the lamest line I have ever heard" - as one of the programs will be destroyed in the process without any care from the parent.

Frankly, I cannot believe how much of a debacle BHMS has made of this (and I am not a LR parent) - paying $X thousand for a school that would toss out a deeply needed program for special needs children is sad and reflects the values of the school and our society and gross incompetence overall. They are looking for an extension for the program to SURVIVE not to stay their forever.
Jan. 31, 2010, 10:51 am
Paul from Park Slope says:
How about that? Half the comments say the BrooklynPaper isn't hard edged journalism, or something like that, giving a pass to the "Happy/Sappy" news that replaced the old days when series were actually considered for Pulitzers. Way to go, Gersh! (And Rupert, et al...)
Feb. 4, 2010, 12:48 pm
LR Parent from Park Slope says:
Please sign petition to save the Little Room:
Feb. 4, 2010, 8:45 pm
marcey anthis from washington state says:
special needs children will always need help with education we as americans,have a duty to all children to,give the best education to every child,in this country. helping them to be the best they can be is not only a duty of all of us . but a right of our disabled children, and there familys.
marcey anthis
former multi-disabled children. oklahoma state university a.a. b.s.
Feb. 11, 2010, 8:48 am

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