Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset is the only state-supported school in Suffolk County for more than 50 preschool children who are deaf or profoundly hearing impaired. It has become apparently clear to us the state assistance it does receive doesn’t seem to be nearly enough.
As a parent pointed out, Cleary’s full-time students ages 3 to 7, despite being young, are keenly aware that they are different from their peers. While facing the challenges of learning how to overcome hearing loss, often in combination with visual impairments and other disabilities, they are separated from peers.
This is a classic case of separate but not equal. Cleary School for the Deaf was forced to take down its 30-year-old wooden playgrounds and has taken to GoFundMe to raise the money needed to replace them.
Young children have a natural desire to want to run, jump and play outside. A playground provides them with the opportunity not only to get exercise and build gross motor skills as they try to negotiate the monkey bars, but a chance for social interaction as well. In taking the risk of asking another child to play, they learn how to negotiate making friends and, unfortunately, deal with rejection. It can also be a chance to be creative by playing make believe.
Parents researching various preschool and kindergarten programs have every reason to want to know what activities and resources will be available to their children — including what opportunities will be available for play.
Katie Kerzner, principal at Cleary, said she’s already faced the difficult questions from parents such as “Will my preschool or kindergarten-aged child have the same opportunity as those at public schools? The opportunity to play on a playground?”
The answer, we all know, should be an unequivocal “Yes.” Unfortunately, the future isn’t so clear. The state-supported school’s staff say enrollment has boomed in the last five years and state aid isn’t keeping up.
Parents of Cleary’s students have launched a GoFundMe campaign in an effort to raise the funds necessary to build a playground. In addition, the school hosted fundraising breakfasts and raffles while local businesses and community members have stepped forward to help, but it’s not yet clear if their fundraising efforts will be enough.
New York State officials need to get on this, provide support and do more. It’s not right to have children who already feel different as they fight to overcome disabilities left out on a fundamental part of growing up.
Our Long Island schools, both public and state-supported, need to receive their fair part of state funding. It’s a battle cry we hear from teachers and school administrators at the start of every budget season in January. This time, we’re sounding the rally cry early for Cleary and its students.