New Plan for School

Academy for autistic children at former C.D.C.H.
Durell Godfrey

The former Child Development Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton could become the newest location for the Gersh Academy, a private special education school for children on the autism spectrum.

Kevin Gersh, the founder of the school, which has five locations nationwide, including two on Long Island, spoke about his plans on Tuesday to the East Hampton Town Board. Mr. Gersh is also the administrator in charge of additional Gersh programs for young people with autism, such as a summer program, social club, therapy program, and residential living facility for those age 18 and up. 

“If you allow me to be in your community, I will develop something you’ve never seen,” he said, “a community center of children with special needs, and families.” He said he would begin by opening a summer camp for up to 150 children with special needs next summer at the former C.D.C.H. location on Stephen Hand’s Path, with the school doors to open in September 2018. The building can accommodate 60 students for classes during the school year, Mr. Gersh said. 

According to Steve Latham, an attorney for Mr. Gersh, a deal to purchase the school building from the child development center is nearing completion. East Hampton Town owns the underlying land, and permission from the town board is needed to assign the lease to Gersh Academy. 

For a short time several years ago Gersh Academy took over the program at the Child Development Center of the Hamptons, which was facing a financial shortfall. But, said Mr. Gersh, ultimately he declined to take on the school’s “baggage.”

The school would employ an executive director and a host of professional staff members such as a social worker, psychologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and so on, in addition to special education teachers and aides, said Mr. Gersh. 

Its services will be tailored to what is needed in the East Hampton area, he said, but he envisions educating children in kindergarten through 12th grade. 

The Gersh classes at those levels would be solely for special education students, unlike the Child Development Center of the Hamptons classes, which were mixed groups that comprised children who required special education services alongside those who did not.

However, Mr. Gersh said he had just received a state license to offer prekindergarten classes, which would be integrated, with equal numbers of regular education and special-needs students. He has met with special education administrators in local schools, he said, who have told him there is a need for services at the pre-K level.

Should he receive the approvals needed to establish a school in East Hampton, he said he would reach out to school district officials to ask them “what do you need . . . how can we help?” in order to determine the scope of services offered.

“I want to do what’s not been done,” he said. He gave the example of a mother he met whose child has to travel several hours on a bus from the East End to attend an appropriate educational program. 

The Gersh school would provide “custom education” based on special education students’ individualized education plans prepared by their home school districts, at least initially, said Mr. Gersh, and include experiential learning through outdoor activities such as gardening. He said he envisions closing off a roadway behind the school building to create a simulated setting where children may practice safely crossing streets and navigating a neighborhood.