NY State Education Committee Member joins calls to save beloved programs for college students with autism

GARDEN CITY, Long Island (WABC) -- A community college on Long Island planning to cut two programs designed to help students with Autism Spectrum Disorder is facing new pressure to reverse course following a report by 7 On Your Side Investigates.

On Friday, students, parents, and program coordinators described the ASPIRES and ACHILLES Programs at Nassau Community College in Garden City as life-changing for the individuals they serve.

"It's helped me branch out more socially. I used to be very reserved and I used to avoid talking with people and I feel like I've improved in that a whole lot," said Lucas Librie, a liberal arts student. "I went to a different college before Nassau and I did terribly."

New York State Senator Monica Martinez, D-Brentwood, a school administrator and member of the state Education Committee, responded to the news by writing Nassau Community College imploring them to change course.

"I strongly urge the reconsideration of the cancellation of the ASPIRES program," read the letter to NCC Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Valerie Collins. "I have been reached out by dozens of individuals whose lives have improved through participation in the ASPIRES program."

In late April, Collins had written program coordinators explaining the programs would not continue in the 2020-2021 academic school year citing, "financial concerns."

"To know that this program, for one of our most vulnerable populations, is on the chopping block is very saddening," Martinez said during an interview with Eyewitness News. "As educational institutions, we are charged with implementing educational techniques and methods to improve the lives of our students that enter our building and the fact that Nassau Community College is not making a concerted effort to save this program is disappointing. There are not enough programs for this population. If NCC takes this program away, we are doing a disservice to them."

Martinez is among a growing number of voices speaking out in the support of the programs.

Friday, Eyewitness News reported that Sen. Todd Kaminksy, D-Long Beach, had also contacted the College in support of the programs, and following the 7 On Your Investigates report, a message in an NCC staff email chain read, "Let's hope this administration reinstates these highly acclaimed programs that have successfully served these students."

A College spokesperson provided a statement about the decision in response to initial inquiries from Eyewitness News but has not responded to requests for comment explaining the decision or responding to the growing calls for the programs' preservation.

That initial statement from Lindsey Angioletti, NCC director, marketing & communications read: Nassau Community College is focused on providing all of our students with the support they need to complete their academics at the College. After careful consideration, students in the ASPIRES program have been transitioned from the formal program to now receive individual campus services in our Student Personnel Services area and our Center for Students with Disabilities. While we appreciate the offer of a member of our staff to voluntarily run the program contractually we were not permitted to do so. It is of the utmost importance to the College that the students in the former ASPIRES program have access to the tools they need to succeed in their academic journey and as such we are developing additional student support to assist the ASPIRES students through this transition."
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