We’ve been covering the fate of the Little Room – the Brooklyn Heights Montessori school program for special needs preschool-aged children – for over a year now, and we last reported that the program would remain part of the school until August 2010, with hopes of it finding a new home. Now in the last half of this school year, parents of Little Room students have written a letter to Dane Peters, the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School Headmaster, and Helene Banks, Chair of the Board of Trustees. The letter explains the current situation, which is that the Little Room is more or less at the end of the line in terms of having all approvals necessary to get a new adopting agency, and a space ready, for September 2010 for the 2010-2011 school year. There is a potential and very interested adopter but there has not been ample time to find a new space, so more time is needed. This additional time requires speedy state approval, or the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School extending their own deadline.
The following letter was signed by 33 past and present Little Room families, and was sent on Sunday evening.
Dear Dane and Helene:
We, the undersigned current and former Little Room parents, are writing to express our deep concern about the future of the Little Room. Specifically, we ask that the BHMS Board reconsider its decision to terminate the Little Room program in August of 2010 and instead allow the Little Room to continue at BHMS for another year.
You will likely respond that the issues regarding the Little Room’s future were extensively debated last winter and that there is no reason to revisit the decision. For a number of reasons, we disagree. In particular, we urge you to consider the following:
1. When the Board made its decision, no Board member believed that his or her vote might be a vote to end the Little Room forever. Indeed, even though a number of elected officials suggested that moving the Little Room would take two years, the Board expressed full confidence that the program would find a new home by the BHMS imposed deadline. Some Board members expressed hope that the Little Room would be able to serve even more students in its theoretical new home. In short, there was nothing but (largely unjustified) optimism from the Board.
Now, however, the situation has changed. The Little Room has been unable to accept students for the 2010-11 school year. If it does not begin to do so in the very near future, it will mean that there can be no program in the next academic year.
The Board members made their decision with confidence that the Little Room would never face extinction. But now extinction is here. Given this new reality, would all Board members now make the same decision they did before? You cannot know unless you ask them.
2. Despite this grim situation, the Little Room has actually made great progress in finding a new sponsor. The YAI Network is, in fact, eager to adopt the program. As State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assembly Member Joan Millman wrote to us, “We were encouraged by YAI’s professionalism and zeal for continuing the Little Room…[Chief Operating Officer Steve] Freeman and his team have demonstrated an incredible commitment to continuing this program.”
Unfortunately, as you are aware, YAI faces a catch-22: it is unable to lay out the money for major renovation of a new space for the Little Room without State Education Department (SED) approval, but SED has been unwilling to approve the facility before it is built out.
What makes this situation even more difficult is the BHMS imposed deadline. Given another year, YAI would have more time to find and renovate suitable space, to work with SED to get the necessary approvals, and to plan an orderly transition for the Little Room. It is unable to do any of this simply because of an artificial deadline imposed by BHMS.
YAI stands ready to achieve the goal that the Board has always claimed to desire. Do Board members want to stop this from happening simply because it cannot be done within the artificial timeline created by BHMS? Again, you cannot know unless you ask them.
3. Throughout this process, both you and other Board members have expressed your love for the Little Room. You have claimed to respect the program and to want to see it thrive for many years to come. We are certain, therefore, that you do not want to see the Little Room end unnecessarily. You have the opportunity to demonstrate your love and respect for the program by giving it the time it needs to complete the process of finding a new home. And in fact, given the situation in which the Little Room finds itself, you are the only ones who can now save it. We respectfully ask you to live by what you so often said and to do the right thing for the program.
We understand that you are eager for the Little Room to move out. Nevertheless, the plans you have for the Little Room’s current space can wait a year. One way or another, BHMS will enjoy many years without the Little Room. But the Little Room has only one chance to survive.
If the Little Room ends, thousands of special needs children will be denied the opportunity to receive an education that can change their lives. Such an outcome is not only completely unnecessary, but also goes against the Montessori philosophy and the school’s expressed commitment to diversity. We are sure this is not what you want your legacy to be.
We are eager to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss this situation. We urge you and the Board to reconsider the Little Room’s future at the next scheduled Board meeting. We look forward to hearing from you and discussing how to move forward.