New Suffolk superintendent unhappy with Mattituck decision on special ed students

A last-minute decision by the Mattituck School District to refuse admission to a special education student from New Suffolk isn’t sitting well with New Suffolk Superintendent Robert Feger.

Mattituck had accepted the student, whose name is being withheld, only to reverse itself the day before classes started last Thursday, Mr. Feger said at Tuesday night’s New Suffolk school board meeting. Mattituck Superintendent James McKenna reportedly told Mr. Feger he would only accept the 6-year-old if the parents agreed to the appointment of an individual school aide.

But according to the boy’s mother, the individual education plan established between the parents and the Mattituck district doesn’t require an aide.

While Mr. Feger explores the possibility placing the boy in Southold, New Suffolk is providing him with a home school aide at a cost of $40 per hour. His mother thanked the administration for its assistance. But after the meeting, she said she and her husband are distressed because their son doesn’t understand why he’s being barred from the classroom and denied the camaraderie of studying with his friends. He loves gym but, since he is home-schooled, the best his teacher can do is play ball outside with him for a few minutes.

When he rode past the school with his mother this week, he was in tears, she said.

To impose on the child and his family a requirement not in the individual education plan would be “in violation of the law,” Mr. Feger said. “My focus is to get the young man in school as quickly as I can,” he said.

“The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District does not speak publicly about individual student issues,” Mr. McKenna said, refusing further comment.

A second situation involving Mattituck has New Suffolk seeking legal advice about its financial responsibility for tuition for a Swiss exchange student.

Neighboring districts don’t charge each other tuition for educating exchange students who come through formal programs, such as those sponsored by Rotary or the Lions Club. But this student was apparently invited privately by a New Suffolk family whose own child studies in Mattituck.

Mr. McKenna asked New Suffolk to pay $4,960 tuition in advance for the months he will be here and Mr. Feger balked. Mattituck finally agreed to take the student and bill New Suffolk while the smaller district explores the legality of the situation.

The host family made private arrangements with the Mattituck district without New Suffolk’s knowledge, said Mr. Feger. He said he only learned to the situation when Mr. McKenna asked New Suffolk to pay the tuition bill.

“All I could do was shake my head; it’s kind of bizarre,” said Mr. Feger. “I’m not giving away $5,000 of New Suffolk money unless I have to.” He said he’s awaiting a ruling from the district’s attorney.

Again, Mr. McKenna declined comment.

Most New Suffolk students receive their secondary education in Southold, but a policy adopted three years ago allows students with special circumstances to select Mattituck. Such circumstances can include having a parent who teaches in Mattituck or being a student who was educated in Mattituck but moved to New Suffolk.

“Our focus is what’s important for the children,” Mr. Feger. “In this situation, it came back to bite us. It’s going to be a long time before I send anyone to Mattituck again.”

Even if the family is willing to have the exchange student go to Southold, Mr. Feger said he doesn’t know if that district would accept the student because there have been several resignations in key positions that might make Southold unable to accommodate an additional student.

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