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May 11, 2015 4:09 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Parents Challenge Westhampton Beach School Board To Create More Special Needs Programs

Picketers gathered outside Westhampton Beach Middle School to petition the Westhampton Beach Board of Education to allow Aiden Killoran, a Remsenburg-Speonk student with Down Syndrome, to attend the middle school next year. KYLE CAMPBELL
May 13, 2015 10:33 AM

A father stood before the Westhampton Beach Board of Education Monday night and called each member cowardly, accused them of promoting “segregation,” and said the school district has cultivated a “shameful legacy” by not educating certain special needs students in-house.

This display—and the heated exchange that followed—came after the same man, Christian Killoran of Remsenburg, and his wife, Terrie, organized a protest outside the Westhampton Beach Middle School earlier that afternoon on behalf of their 12-year-old son, Aiden, who suffers from Down syndrome, a genetic disorder.

The aim of these acts was to convince the School Board to create special education programs within its middle and high schools, and not just for their son.

Backed by roughly 40 supporters from throughout Long Island carrying handmade signs, Mr. Killoran addressed board members for roughly nine minutes on Monday, asking that they allow his son Aiden, currently a special needs sixth-grader in the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School, to attend the Westhampton Beach Middle School next year.

“Either you’re about integration or you’re about segregation—it’s really that simple,” said Mr. Killoran, an attorney. “I want to know, and the people here want to know, and it’s a simple answer. All you have to do is just say it: Will you educate Aiden Killoran next year?”

Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Mike Radday said the board could not answer the question without violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a response that caused a stir among those in attendance.

Mr. Radday said the accusations that he and the board lacked courage and compassion were unfounded and untrue.

“We have empathy,” he said. “We’re in this field because we love kids and we want the best for them. Anyone who’s going to stand up and tell me that’s not why I’m doing this, I’m going to tell you you’re wrong.”

Aiden is classified as an alternately assessed student, meaning that, because of his disorder, he would need to be educated in a special classroom—one which Westhampton Beach does not currently offer at its middle or high schools.

Based on a recommendation from the Remsenburg-Speonk Committee on Special Education, or CSE, Aiden will have to attend classes in either the Eastport South Manor, Center Moriches or Southampton school districts, or the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, also known as BOCES, for his post-elementary education once he graduates from Remsenburg-Speonk in June.

Andrew Gilbride of Westhampton asked the members of the board, who sat in silence during the public comment portion of the meeting, to comment on the issue.

“You can certainly speak in the abstract and not about any specific student, but give us your opinion on the situation and where this could be addressed,” he said. “You’re our representatives, please. I’d like to hear it.”

Mr. Radday said the board had been advised by its legal counsel not to discuss the issue publicly, which drew cries from the audience that the board was being gagged.

Board member Claire Bean, however, opted to address the crowd. Ms. Bean said that as the mother of a special needs child in the district, she could empathize with the parents in attendance, but she asked for their patience while the board made “slow and thoughtful and significant changes” regarding the district’s policies.

“I feel your hearts—there’s no ear on this board that doesn’t feel your hearts,” Ms. Bean said. “I feel your passion, I feel your heartache, and I think if you trust the process, which is very, very difficult, but I ask you for patience and the same empathy you’re asking from all of us.”

On Monday afternoon, roughly 25 picketers from Babylon, Sayville, Patchogue, South Jamesport and other locations throughout the island held a demonstration outside Westhampton Beach Middle School alongside the Killorans, advocating that the school and district develop more special education programs.

Mr. Killoran said he and his wife have attempted to reach out to the School Board several times during the past two and a half years but, thus far, have gotten nothing in return.

Protesters gathered at the northwest corner of Mill Road and Oneck Lane shortly after 2 p.m. and waved signs urging drivers to honk their horns if they wanted Aiden to attend Westhampton Beach. Picketers also chanted “Integrate, not segregate!” and circulated petitions for people to sign and submit to the Westhampton Beach Board of Education.

Eileen Tyznar, owner of Teaching Education Advocacy for Children with Higher needs, or TEACH, Consulting Services Inc., helped orchestrate the protest, spreading the word to families facing similar issues throughout Long Island.

Ms. Tyznar, a professional advocate hired by the Killorans and 15 other families in and around Westhampton Beach, said it is common for smaller districts to send their special needs children elsewhere for education, but she believes that in doing so the districts are shirking their responsibility to their communities.

During that night’s meeting, Ms. Tyznar said it’s important for special needs children to interact with other students in order to learn important communications skills. She also said Westhampton Beach knew well in advance of this year that the Killorans wanted to send Aiden to their middle school, so they had time to put a solution in place. “They knew that he was coming,” she said. “They should have done something by now.”

Most Remsenburg-Speonk students go on to attend the Westhampton Beach middle and high schools. Ms. Killoran argued that forcing Aiden to go to a different school—forcing him to leave behind friends he has made over the past seven years, as well as his two siblings, Christian Riley and Shannon—would create an undue burden for him.

“Here, all of his friends love him—he just happens to have Down syndrome. They know him and love him,” Ms. Killoran said. “You ship him off to Eastport South Manor, no one is going to know him. The typical kids aren’t even going to talk to him.”

Other parents with special needs children, including Kerry Horton of Remsenburg and Ana Schaffauer of Quogue, also urged the board to create a pathway for Aiden to attend the Westhampton Beach Middle School with the hope that it would set a precedent that their children could follow. Mr. Killoran argued that once a program is established, it will become more financially feasible over time.

But Mr. Radday said the district has never had enough demand to create a specialized class at Westhampton Beach. Therefore, he argued, it has always been within the students’ best interest that they be educated elsewhere after leaving the elementary school, which does currently provide support for alternately assessed children.

“There are times, like when you have one student over a three-year grade span, when we can’t offer a program that can do all the things a neighboring district or a BOCES can do, because they have expertise—they have similar kids with similar needs and opportunities to integrate them,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s the bottom-line answer, the number of students, but there are times when it makes sense for kids to go into a specialized program.”

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We pay these so called gurus of education so much money to educate our children. Why is it such a problem for them to at least give Aidan a chance? We are suppose to be teaching children to understand, and accept everyone. I really think teachers don't want to be bothered with the extra work of a specials needs child.
Aidan at the least deserves a time in a classroom to be evaluated to see if this is the right setting. If Aidan doesn't get at least this chance the WHB school district should ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on May 11, 15 5:46 PM
Chief, I have read this article 3 times now and still can not find where it is stated that the teachers don't want Aiden at WHB. I was unaware that teachers set policy. I thought that was the purview of the Board of Education. I must need some special help as well.
By zappy (65), east quogue on May 11, 15 6:59 PM
Save it Zappy who do you think makes policy? The behind the scene nonsense that teacher's won't say in public is disturbing. But remembet teachers only do it for the students.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on May 11, 15 9:19 PM
I found trying to fight for my kids to be educated in Westhampton Beach to be disturbing. The long island press did an article reading 'riting and revenge in 2007 about what they did to my family. They used CPS and the the final report stated it appeared Westhampton beach educationally neglected my son. Even after that I still had to fight for my kids education low and behold my late husband was dying in a NYC hospital of stage 4 bile duct cancer and special education director Mary Ann Ambrosini ...more
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 11, 15 10:48 PM
That's outrageous. I'm sorry for your loss. I'm disgusted by the actions of WHB board.
By double standard (1506), Remsenburg on May 12, 15 6:17 AM
1 member liked this comment
In fairness Mary Ann Ambrosini told me if I didn't like move. So I did.
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 11, 15 10:54 PM
Wow, sounds exactly like what we have been dealing with for the past couple of years as well. they will not allow my son to come back into regular school or even into the summer rec program. All he wants is to be with his friends as well. Looks like we will be battling again soon!! Good luck to Aiden!!

P.S. Ambrosini is not a nice person at all!!
By taylorjj143 (3), westhampton on May 12, 15 2:58 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 12, 15 4:12 PM
My comment was delete, I will just say some people can report a good man who was dying to CPS but you can't give a description of the person that could lower themself to do such a sickening act. Priceless.
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 12, 15 5:02 PM
Ambrosini has been bad news for years. The administration knows it and so does the board. While Westhampton may enjoy the reputation of being the "best" east end school they must simultaneous share the title of worst school when it comes to educating special Ed students
By photo friend (31), southampton on May 12, 15 6:13 PM
Patchogue Medford school district parents and teachers must have done a balloon release when she left. I was told by the board of education that they are educating children for Yale and Harvard. That is a fact. My late father who taught for 30 years asked them about the rest of the kids in the school. The room went quiet. Mind you all my meetings were behind closed door. They didn't want my meetings public alway behind closed doors.
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 12, 15 8:42 PM
You can't change things not enough people are outraged. The sad fact is Westhampton Beach is a legend in there own minds. There are better schools out there. Everyone buys into the delusion that they are the best. Until people realize in the community that they not the best change cannot happen. That is why I moved. I chose not to continue to drink the cool aid any further.
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 12, 15 8:51 PM
We went thru the same thing and were told to "lawyer up or move". However, our child required services, but is not learning disabled. Everyone who has fallen victim to mistreatment by administrators needs to call the NYS Regional Office in Hauppauge and make a complaint, along with the Federal Office of Civil Rights (online). Until the BOE hears these horror stories and starts being investigated, they will turn a blind eye. We moved as well - the teachers told us our child needed help but in ...more
By HELPINGWHB (2), Westhampton on May 13, 15 6:53 AM
1 member liked this comment
Fighting to get what is right takes time and during that time your child falls behind and struggles harder. I know because it happened to my children. I moved to give my youngest a chance at an education. He is doing very well. The school he attends in nc is 2nd in the state and ranked 378 in the nation and is a gold medal school. They manage to educate all students. We are county run super makes approx $185 a year with 53,000 students. My taxes are $2000 for a 2800 sq foot house on 1/2 acre. ...more
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 13, 15 8:28 AM
WHB super is making over $281 includes benefits and other. I don't know if that includes the car he is provided or not. That was for 2013 -2014 school year. The assistant super is making $208k and the assistant super of business is making $202k Director of pupil personnel, that is the person in charge of special, is making $145k. The board of Ed should be voted in on how they can make things better and what are their qualifications, as it stands now it is a popularity contest.
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 13, 15 8:58 AM
i assume you mean $185,000; however, I find it hard to believe he/she alone is responsible for '53000 students;' in a 'county run system,' there is a principal and assistant principal for elementary/middle/high schools in each district--the 'super' co-ordinates policy with the county Board of Ed. i know this because my daughter teaches 'down south'
By splinter (14), southampton on May 22, 15 4:52 PM
Your right we have principals and assistant principals here also. But so does WHB so your super is not alone in the responsibity of Maybe 3000 students. My point was that the ratio of students to the superintendent in ny is far less than nc. There are 53,000 students in this county and one super those are the facts. Also look up Winston Salem forsyth county school. West is best and I do mean forsyth west nc. If you don't believe that google them. Your daughter is teaching here because she ...more
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 26, 15 11:26 AM
I don't have a dog in this race but I find these position pieces fascinating. I am not emotionally involved but recognize it as a component. Actually, I am financially trained so I tend to boil things down a bit. I am not a fan of advocates that advance only positions that support their argument. I think in all cases both sides have some basis of rationality or they wouldn't be on that said. That said, can someone please clarify: Is a Remsenburg resident in the WHB school district? Or are ...more
By Hambone (514), New York on May 13, 15 11:22 AM
1 member liked this comment
East quogue, quogue and remsenburg are tuition paid. It is over $20,000 in tuition per student for east quogue taxpayer and depending on special Ed needs that amount is higher. We have to send to WHB it is the contact WHB then decides what special Ed children get shipped out and to what school. So these special ed children spent their early years with their friends in their local school. When they get to WHB they are shipped off to other district like center moriches or Eastport south manor. ...more
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 13, 15 1:17 PM
Start going to board meetings call the appropriate state Ed authorities get petitions signed if applicable get all your ducks in a row with IEP info state law info and whatever other pertinent info you need and FIGHT. Make noise there might even be a special education advocate who could help you. Be strong be prepared grow some tough skin and don't give up! Good luck
By photo friend (31), southampton on May 13, 15 5:40 PM
I want to thank everyone for their support. The "proof is in the pudding" as Westhampton has NEVER educated an "alternately assessed" student in their post-elementary buildings in their HISTORY. This is really all you need to know. Communities need to hold "no confidence" votes on the superintendents.
By Sleeping Giant (20), Southampton on May 13, 15 6:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
As a retired educator, I can speak from experience. Inclusion programs are in some cases helpful for the special needs student but at an extreme cost to the education of main stream students in the same room. Even with the addition of a teachers aid, there is no way to properly address the needs of a mixed class.
In a 45 minute class 5 to 10 minutes is taken by administrative, attendance etc. That leaves 35 minutes to present a lesson. With 40 students in the room, each student would get less ...more
By jediscuba (71), Bayside on May 14, 15 3:44 PM
Jediscuba - you must have taught during the medieval times. Are you kidding me? Inclusion does not work? What type of educator are you? You obviously have no experience in inclusion. It has long been established that inclusion does in fact work. As such, it is codified in law and in "teaching best practices acts". The debate of whether inclusion works or not is long settled and your perspective was proven wrong long ago. This isn't about inclusion being theoretically right; that issue is settled, ...more
By Sleeping Giant (20), Southampton on May 14, 15 6:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
40 students in a classroom seems like a lot of kids for a typical class.
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 14, 15 10:21 PM
I know in the High school at WHB, in the newer section of the building, they had the Special Ed 15 - 1 class in two rooms that just had a door with no windows. In school suspension was also in a room with just door and no windows. I was told that it was safe cause classes are only 40 minutes long. I hope that they have found a more suitable space to educate the special Ed children they keep in house. I brought up that it was dangerous for children and teachers if there was a fire or another ...more
By Mary216 (24), Clemmons on May 14, 15 10:35 PM
Killoran ccusing board members of being "cowardly" is totally absurd. Although, as someone who hunts deer in his town, I guess he's actually an expert on cowardice.
By frokman (6), Mattituck on May 15, 15 6:00 PM
I am stunned that the Board of Education seems to be unaware of the fact that they are mandated to provide appropriate education to ALL students in the least restrictive environment possible. Isolating special needs students and keeping them separated from the rest of the student population does all students a disservice. Special needs students see only others who are non conforming to social norms, and therefore have no point of reference for what those norms are, and socially adept students are ...more
By InnerBay (72), Southampton on May 19, 15 1:23 PM
1 member liked this comment