For more than 50 years, Marianne Klotz has worked tirelessly to benefit children with developmental disabilities. Although she is now in the top leadership position at the nonprofit Brookville Center for Children’s Services, in Glen Head, where she directs support services and programs, she was initially hired in 1968 as a teacher’s aide. At the time, children with disabilities were not permitted to attend public school. In fact, there were no mandates that they even had to go to school, or that their instructors be certified as special education teachers.
When she arrived, Klotz, who was going to college part-time at Hofstra University, needed a day job. She was a music major and had no teaching credits, but a classmate suggested that she work with “retarded” children.
“When I came here for the interview, I was like, where am I?” recalled Klotz, 70, of Oyster Bay.
But then she saw a familiar face. As a high school junior, she had helped a young woman with a disability after a boy knocked the books out of her hands as a prank. “When I came to BCCS for the interview,” Klotz said, “that woman greeted me.”
Hired as an aide, she was put in charge of a classroom with children who were severely disabled or had Down syndrome. She loved the work, and the more involved she became at the center, the less she focused on music. Klotz became a teacher at BCCS in 1970.
But the school wasn’t open year-round then, as it is today, so that summer she looked for other employment. She was hired by the Suffolk State School, in Melville, a school for children with disabilities that no longer exists. Klotz said it was like Willowbrook, a Staten Island institution for mentally disabled patients that was closed in 1987 after it was confirmed that the patients were being mistreated.
Klotz found children wearing hospital gowns and diapers, locked in rooms. They were wards of the state, she said, and treated cruelly. “Attendees had keys on lanyards,” she recalled, “and if the kids didn’t move fast enough, they would hit them with the keys. I carry one of those keys with me everywhere. Every time I get disgusted, I think of the key.”
She became a licensed pathologist in 1975, which helped her in her work at BCCS. In 1983 she earned a building principal certification and a superintendent’s license. She was put in charge of support services and programs in 1988.
These days, Klotz said, electronics is an important part of the program, because the children are proficient at it. A music teacher visits the center to put language to music, teaching children concepts and counting. There are also adaptive phys. ed. classes in which students learn games so they can be a part of the community. The older students even go to a bowling alley once a week.
Klotz was honored for her decades of service and leadership at a Reach for the Stars event on March 21 at The Mansion at Oyster Bay. She was given a scrapbook filled with photos of the children at BCCS. She can still remember all of their names — even their ages — as well as what they liked, and, for some, the year they died.
“Sarah came into our autism program when she was 2,” Klotz said, pointing to one of the photos. “She didn’t eat, and screamed incessantly. Sarah was a miracle. We were able to get her into a full-time early-intervention program, and then a full-time preschool program.”
Now Sarah is exploring colleges.
Attorney Saundra Gumerove’s daughter, Lauren, was expelled from BOCES for her behavior before she came to BCCS. “They described her as the devil reincarnate,” said Gumerove, who is the president of The Arc New York, a nonprofit for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “When I brought Lauren to BCCS, Marianne said she had the perfect class for her. My husband and I thought she was crazy.”
Klotz told the couple to leave their daughter with BCCS for the day. Gumerove said she went home and waited by the phone, certain she would get a call requesting that she return and take Lauren home.
When she arrived at the school at dismissal time, a teacher was taking Lauren for a walk. Over the course of three months, Lauren’s behavior drastically changed. Now 37, she lives in a community residence, and her mother says she is incredibly happy.
“Marianne has the God- given talent to know what children need, and is the most compassionate, caring person I know,” Saundra said.
Asked why she has stayed at BCCS for so long, Klotz was quick to respond. “I always saw a need here, and I never got bored,” she said. “The needs were always changing, and they were glaring. I needed to do something about it.”
Sherry Black, the program supervisor at the center, described Klotz, who she has known for 25 years, as a pioneer for special education.
“Marianne’s been here from the beginning, and has made a home for many families, who we welcome when their child is accepted here,” Black said. “We take care of them. It’s not just go to school and then go home. This is through Marianne’s vision.”
Klotz envisions a plan and then follows through on it, Block said. “The families that leave us keep in touch,” she said, adding that that is in large part due to Klotz. “She adopted a special-needs child herself. Her loving kindness, and knowing what these parents go through, are important attributes.”