At the July 6 Northport-East Northport School District Board of Education meeting, parent Cathie Josephson explained the plight of her daughter Erika, an incoming ninth grade special education student.
After seven years in the district, Erika has done well thanks to support from teachers and classmates, Cathie said. But now the Josephson family has been told there is no place for Erika at Northport High School.
Although she is currently attending in-district summer camp, she will need to attend Western Suffolk BOCES in September.
To make matters worse, Josephson said that Erika’s belongings, including special equipment she needs on a daily basis, has already been packed up in bins, and the child was given a "filthy" adaptive toilet seat to use in her first week at camp.
Erika’s plight has touched her Northport Middle School classmates. Nearly 100 students have signed a petition, initiated by Catherine Drasdo and Kady Hogan which reads, in part: “For a school that ‘Never leaves anyone out,' they say they have no place for her in the high school. We think it is unfair, and we hope you feel the same way. Erika is a wonderful girl and should be able to stay in the district with no conflict."
At Wednesday’s meeting, Director of Special Education Christina Pulaski defended her staff’s actions. She said she didn’t know who had packed up Erika’s belongings but that they were still easily accessible. As for the toilet seat, Pulaski said she had made sure one was available, but didn’t personally check it for cleanliness.
“No one checked the bathroom?” Josephson asked. “It’s the custodian’s fault?”
Pulaski said she didn’t think it was her responsibility to have checked it. In the end, Special Ed Chairperson Karrie Kruger and counselor Nicole Barbier-Adil cleaned the seat.
Josephson was not alone in her frustration. Carina Ranieri explained her difficulties – and ultimate failure – to enroll her son in the district’s summer golf camp which began June 27.
After being told two weeks before the camp started that the golf section was closed, Ranieri received a message on June 24, the last day of school, from Superintendent Marylou McDermott’s assistant saying that a new section had been opened.
Ranieri followed up on Monday with the camp office, only to be told there was no new section. Ten minutes later, another call came in from the camp office, saying Ranieri’s son could attend camp that very day, and that assistance would be provided for him. Since Ranieri had been told two weeks before that golf was closed, her son had other engagements, and was unable to attend.
McDermott said she had her assistant make the June 24 call because she had understood more students were interested in taking the camp. “My decision was to have all students participate," she said.
Ranieri’s letter, which is attached to this article, details unreturned phone calls to Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Terry Bouton, as well as a lack of email response from Christina Pulaski, Special Education Chairperson Allyson Giaimo, and McDermott. Bouton said she had gotten a message from Ranieri seeking to know which compliance office to contact, but that it was her understanding that Ranieri wasn’t expecting a phone call in return.
Parent Rachel Friedman, a former member of the executive Board of SEPTA wanted to know what the district’s policy was with regard to acknowledging receipt of an email or call.
A lack of response has come up in . Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Administration Matthew Nelson said the district is in the process of putting a new email system in place, but “there’s no way to guarantee that emails get there.” Ranieri wanted to know why her phone calls weren’t returned.
McDermott said she takes full responsibility, and said she and Pulaski would review the procedure in place for guaranteeing an aide in such situations. Board Vice President Donna McNaughton suggested that it be added to the procedure book that goes home to parents.
President Stephen Waldenburg suggested that the procedure for responding to emails also be reviewed so “parents don’t send messages into a void.”