Parents, Staff Rally For Children

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Raphael and Rachel Poplock of Roslyn were among the crowd of protesters outside the Mill Neck Manor Early Childhood Center last week. (Photo by Jill Nossa)

A group of parents and teachers from the Mill Neck Manor Early Childhood Center organized a rally last week to protest the potential closing of a school that is not only well-loved, but provides a need that other schools do not, according to many. Organizers said the protest was in response to contradictory information and a lack of transparency on behalf of the administration.

Diane Cusker, copresident of the Mill Neck Manor Educational Association, said that the statement issued by Michael F. Killian, president and chief executive officer of the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, earlier this month, does not give the complete picture. His statement said the cost of the program has resulted in a multi-million dollar loss and staff compensation is the primary reason for the financial problems.

“He is stating that the union is not working with the administration,” said Cusker. “We are willing to work with him, but we have not gotten a response.”

“Overall, we do not want the school to close,” said Gabrielle Barry, a teacher at the ECC. “People say they wear their heart on their sleeves—we wear our hearts on the kids. We’re here for them, we’re here for the school to stay open. We have always known the school has had financial difficulties. They’ve always said that, but they’ve never proved it. We’ve asked for copies of documents; they’re a private organization, under no obligation to provide them, and they have not. We’ve always worked with them.”

Barry said that, over the past seven years, teacher salaries have only increased by 1 percent and that when they signed their most recent contract, they accepted a salary decrease for new employees as well as an increase on health insurance premiums in order to help the school close its financial gaps.

“It’s been difficult to know what exactly is going on and how we can help,” said Barry. “We will do what we can, but we want it to be fair.”

The Early Childhood Center, founded in 1991, provides early and intensive assistance to children ages 3 and 4, who may have deficits in speech, language/communication, cognitive and gross and fine motor development. The Mill Neck Family of Organizations also operates Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, which Killian said will not be impacted.

Raphael and Rachel Poplock of Roslyn, whose daughter has been enrolled in the school since September 2016, are concerned about the future of the program that serves nearly 80 students and frustrated that they cannot get clear answers.

“These children cannot protect themselves and without this school, there will be 77 less spots for children like ours in Nassau County,” said Rachel. “There’s not going to be enough spots for all of them and the kids who need these services are basically being abandoned, for no reason and without any transparency.”

Raphael added, “It should be about the kids first and foremost. The fact that our kids are basically a pawn in a larger chess game is not fair.”

They said they chose the school in the first place based on its reputation and were immediately impressed by the facilities and the staff. Finding a new school by next fall is not a process they are looking forward to again.

“This is not a regular school, this school sets the bar. Continuity is very important to children at this age and the fact that the continuity will be stunted most likely with lesser programs is really tough as a parent to sit with,” said Raphael. “When you find a school that clicks and you know is really going to take care of your kids in a way that you want, it’s special, it gives you comfort. Then when it’s taken all away, it’s jarring.”

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