Nassau County Legislature helps save 2 college programs supporting students with autism

NASSAU COUNTY (WABC) -- Roughly six weeks after 7 On Your Side Investigates first exposed that Nassau Community College was planning to eliminate two programs serving students with autism, those programs were officially restored Monday with the approval of the college's proposed 2020-2021 budget by the Nassau County Legislature.

In May, when the Legislature learned of the college's plans to cut the ASPIRES and Achilles programs while adding to their financial reserves, the County Legislature responded by writing college leadership a letter refusing to approve the annual budget until both programs had been fully restored.

"This is a very important issue to us and we were willing to take a stand even if it meant taking a stand on the entire budget," said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello.

The programs provide comprehensive support to students with autism through one-on-one and group counseling sessions, and offer programming designed to address executive functioning and social skill deficits.

"I went to a different college before coming to Nassau Community and I did terribly," said Lucas Librie, who credits his success at NCC to the support he has received in ASPIRES.

"It's helping a lot of students succeed," said Jimmy Kelly, another ASPIRES student.

After weeks of negotiations, Nassau Community College President Dr. Jermaine Williams agreed to maintain both programs in their entirety in the upcoming school year and in future years.

With that promise, the County Legislature voted unanimously to approve NCC's budget.

"We are thrilled that we are going to be able to restore these programs," Nicolello said. "It took longer than I thought it would, but the important thing is the result."

Fran Viscovich, who coordinates the ASPIRES program, said she was immensely grateful to everyone involved in supporting the effort to restore ASPIRES and Achilles.

"Danielle Leigh, I know myself, and my family, and my students, we look at you as our autism angel. You really came and made such a difference, and I can't thank you enough," Viscovich said. "And that these legislators, they listened, I can't thank them enough."

Viscovich said the restoral of these programs does more than guarantee students with autism a better chance at succeeding in college. She said it also reinforces a group who often feels underrepresented, misunderstood, and unheard.

"It's been a long journey, but it has been a really worthwhile journey," Viscovich said. "When we all work together we can really make changes and have positive outcomes, and not keep looking at individuals for their disabilities but in the magic of their abilities."

In a statement, a spokesperson for NCC wrote, "As the College has always stated we are committed to providing our ASPIRES and Achilles students with the support they need to complete their academics here at Nassau Community College. These programs will continue in their entirety within our Academic/Student Services area. Our Academic/Student Services area is a qualified and supervised unit whose functions are to complement the overall academic mission of the College, by providing student support and advocacy services designed to help students achieve their academic and personal goals. In addition, this area provides a variety of counseling services and programs designed to support student academic achievement and personal growth and this is aligned with goals of both the ASPIRES & Achilles programs."

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