BY YVETTE BROWN
A prominent Queens educational institution that serves the hearing impaired is finding it hard to continue to give services due to an ongoing budget freeze.
“All of our students here are profoundly deaf, many of them have secondary disabilities, cognitive issues [and] cognitive disabilities,” said Beatriz Gavin, a bilingual speech pathologist for 18 years at the Lexington School for the Deaf.
The Lexington School for the Deaf is located on 30th Avenue in Jackson Heights and has been in the neighborhood serving deaf students throughout the five boroughs since 1865. Seven years ago, at the height of the post-Great Recession budget crunch, the school found its budget frozen.
Lexington is a 4201 school. These schools, named after the bill number of a 1947 state law, serve the special education needs of children who are deaf, blind and/or severely physically disabled. Across New York State, there are currently 11 private, state-supported 4201 schools, of which Lexington is one.
The budgets for 4201 schools were frozen in 2009, but they were never restored, even as the state’s economic and fiscal situation has improved.
“Our budget for the 4201 schools has been basically frozen for the last seven years. They haven’t given us any increases, any percentage increases, so our salaries have basically been stuck at the same amount for all of those years, so where the Board of Education teachers will get a step increase each year, we have not, we’ve been frozen there. In essence, we’ve now fallen way behind the Board of Education salaries because of this, so we’re fighting for salary parody, so that our salaries would be the same as the Board of Education within our district,” said Gavin.
Lexington is the largest school for deaf students in New York State and they educate deaf children up until the age of 21. The school prepares students to continue on to college, vocational education, job training or a placement that will help them live a responsible and productive life.
Gavin said that some of the deaf children also have other disabilities that can make things a bit more difficult, but the school offers many programs to help them progress further.
“[Students] may have processing language disabilities, many of them are born through hearing parents so their parents do not know sign language so they can’t communicate with [the children] at home. Many of our students, who come from other countries never had any kind of amplification hearing aids or cochlear implants and their parents don’t know sign language, so they basically have no way of communicating at home,” said Gavin. “We offer sign language classes to the parents, some parents do take advantage of that, of the availability, many do not. Here at school, we use total communication modality, which means that we’re speaking to them in English and we’re signing at the same time and we provide them with hearing aids in the school during the school days, they don’t have personal hearing aids so that’s their way of learning here at Lexington.”
According to their website, the Lexington School for the Deaf has four affiliated centers including, the Center for Mental Health Services, the Center for Vocational Services, the Hearing and Speech Center and the Lexington School for the Deaf Foundation, which allows the school to accommodate every student regardless of their situation. Students are also provided with speech-language therapy and Occupational Therapy or Physical Therapy if they need it.
“If a child is born deaf and [the parent] finds out that the child is deaf, and they start wearing amplification at birth and they receive early intervention, they keep getting services, they wear their hearing aids consistently, [then] they could develop good auditory skills so that they could perform in an oral program without sign, but the majority of our children don’t have that benefit, [some of them are] identified late in life as being deaf, from four-year olds to 16-year olds,” said Gavin.
A normal class that has six to eight children will have a teacher and an assistant and special classes for children who need more attention and direction have just six children.
Lexington school hours are from 8:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and there is availability for elementary school children to participate in after school programs three days a week. They get extra help with their homework and then they have free time to socialize with their friends.
This year, the school took their advocacy to restore funds to social media, sending out Twitter messages to the state legislature and state Democratic and Republican parties asking them to support a 4.2 percent increase in funding. The tweets included one featuring a photo of a Lexington student and parent and another featuring a staffer holding signs calling for “parity.”
Currently, the Senate and the Assembly are still working on it. They’ve presented their budgets and they have to discuss it with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to see what the end result will be. The budget was due April 1, so they’re still waiting to see what will happen in terms of the percentage increase that the 4201 schools will be getting.
“I just think the community should know there are many teachers here who have worked here for many years, we love our job, we love working with these kids, our dedication is evident. We’re working with children who have a lot of obstacles placed in front of them and a lot of them don’t get the support that they need at home from their parents for whatever reason, so we’re here and we’re dedicated to our students. We just want New York State, the State Education Department, to also value what we’re doing here for these kids because you can’t educate these kids in a regular school, they would fall through the cracks, they need the experience that we have, they need the services that we provide and the support that we give them,” said Gavin.
Reach Yvette Brown at (718)357-7400 ext.128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @eveywrites.