By Joe Anuta
A Flushing-based special needs school closed last week months after state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli alleged its owners misused $1.5 million in taxpayer dollars, according to employees.
The sudden shutdown gave parents just days to look for a new school for their children.
Bilingual SEIT & Preschool Inc., at 150-07 Northern Blvd., had previously been under a $23 million, two-year contract to provide education for about 700 special needs students at a handful of locations across the city, according to DiNapoli’s July audit. The comptroller contended that owner Cheon Park used taxpayer money to pay off car loans, rent properties that had no connection to the school, purchase items like expensive children’s furniture and inflate the salary of his wife, according to the report.
Park declined to comment for this story.
The city Department of Education did not comment specifically about the audit, but a spokeswoman said it did not renew its contract with Bilingual.
Parents and employees said that last Thursday and Friday the school closed its doors in several locations.
“How could you drop a bombshell on parents just like that?” asked Iasia Vann, who sent her autistic son to Bilingual’s Manhattan location and was alerted at 9 p.m. Friday by the DOE that the school would not be open the following Wednesday, when classes were set to resume.
Vann said the school’s Flushing location closed last Thursday.
Now Vann said she has to take off work to go through the arduous process of finding a suitable school for her 4 1/2-year-old son.
“You have to make sure these schools have the right equipment and the staff to service your child,” she said. “It’s not like finding a public school. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time.”
It was not immediately clear how long the DOE had known it was not going to renew its contract with Bilingual, but Vann said a DOE representative called her last Thursday and asked if she would like a tour of another school in Manhattan, a day before the department called to tell her that her school was closed.
Employees also found out they were out of a job Friday, according to one woman who works at the Manhattan location but did not want to be named.
“The rug was taken out from under our feet,” she said, adding that Park promised to pay his employees but has yet to set a concrete date.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.