By Kathryn G. Menu
During Tuesday’s East Hampton Town Board meeting, a handful of residents came out in opposition to and in support of a bid by the Gersh Academy, a private school that specializes in providing education for children on the autism spectrum, to take over the lease of the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons property on Stephen Hands Path in Wainscott.
In late November, a number of school superintendents in East Hampton and Southampton voiced opposition to the lease, citing concerns over Gersh Academy not being licensed by the state, as well as the financial impact on school districts administrators say are providing many of these services on their own.
On Tuesday, Loring Bolger said the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee had voted to voice its opposition to the lease.
“The superintendents in the area are not pleased — they feel they are taking care of the needs of children on the autism spectrum as separate schools and they believe, as a lot of people do, that inclusion in a school setting is what is best for these kids instead of being sectioned off,” she said. She added the community was also concerned about the financial strain this could put on districts that ostensibly would have to pay the Academy’s $50,000 tuition, as well as the cost of additional services that could cost tens of thousands of dollars, or face litigation by parents hoping to send their children to the Gersh Academy.
But Genie Egerton-Warburton disagreed. A special needs educator and mother of a child with a rare neurological disorder, Ms. Warburton said not all children can be in inclusive classrooms, and that local school districts do not offer all the services that some children need.
“It is every mother’s dream her child can be mainstreamed at some point in their lives, but the reality is special needs education must be implemented from the beginning,” she said, noting her own child is currently thriving in a home-based program in Water Mill, but would benefit from the socialization available at a school like the Gersh Academy.
“I urge all the superintendents to search within their souls and ask themselves if there is a societal, ethical and moral imperative that demands we educate these children on the autism spectrum in a complete way as we would educate other children,” she said. “If the answer is ‘yes,’ you have to vote to support the Gersh Academy or another school for special needs on the East End.”