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Daily News helps program for deaf students stay at Middle School 158

The Education Department has put the brakes on a controversial plan to evict a long-running program for deaf students from its Queens school after questions from the Daily News.

The kids and staff got a last-minute reprieve Friday - a month after they had been ordered to pack up and move out of the Bayside school they have shared for 16 years.

The decision came after calls from The News to education officials.

Still, teachers and parents are concerned about the program's future.

"The way we've been treated, we're still worried," said teacher Elaine Miller. "They could do the same thing next year."

The program had been told last month it must leave Middle School 158 - even though no new home had been found for the 19 students, their two teachers and two paraprofessionals.

For two years, tension between the staff of the hearing-impaired program and MS158 Principal Marie Nappi has been growing, sources said. Nappi is frustrated that although her school houses the program and is accountable for its students' test scores, the program is run by the city's special education district, sources said. Responding to similar complaints from other principals, education officials earlier this year toyed with the idea of putting all hearing and vision programs under the principals' control.

But officials backed away from that plan following a backlash from staff and parents, who feared principals wouldn't want to sink expensive resources into the programs. The friction, though, continued at MS158. The program for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders was told it must vacate its two rooms. New hearing-impaired students were not allowed to tour the program, which uses specialized equipment and sign language to meet the children's needs.

Nappi did not respond to a request for comment, but schools spokeswoman Maibe Gonzalez-Fuentes said Friday that the program won't be moved and new students would be registered.

"It's a good program," said Kareen Brock, whose son attended the school and whose profoundly deaf daughter is there now. "You don't pick up and move kids here, there and everywhere."